A traveller has been given a suspended prison sentence for pitching caravans without planning permission on green belt land that he owns in Cheshire.
Michael Maloney moved on to land in Mobberley last year after his home in Essex was destroyed by arsonists. The judge said he was guilty of "repeated disobedience" of an injunction to stop him developing the site.
Mobberley councillor Charlotte Leach said the sentence gave "some sense of justice for our local community".
“I am broadly satisfied with today’s outcome. In my view only a custodial sentence would have properly reflected the serious nature of Mr Maloney’s breaches of the High Court Order, albeit I accept that there will be disappointment in the community that the custodial sentence is a suspended one. That said, Mr Maloney is currently already detained in custody on another matter and in many respects a suspended sentence provides the community with more protection in relation to any potential future breaches. As council’s counsel noted, the two-year suspended sentence will be hanging over Mr Maloney like the ‘Sword of Damocles’.
A custodial sentence has been imposed in recognition of the continuous and flagrant disregard for the law and has, at the very least, provided some sense of justice for our local community. In addition, Mr Maloney has to make a payment of costs to Cheshire East Council of £25,000 within 28 days.
Whilst there is still a long road ahead for us in restoring the land back to its rightful condition, this is a significant and key milestone on this journey. At this juncture I would like to take the opportunity to thank the relevant officers at Cheshire East Council for their tireless efforts on this case and also wish to express my thanks to our fantastic local community in Mobberley who took the time to assist with collecting evidence of the breaches.
Mr Maloney bought the land in August 2019 and he moved his extended family to the site in August 2020 after their home near Bishop's Stortford was destroyed in an arson attack.
Planning consultants acting for Mr Maloney said the fire had left his family with a "desperate" need for accommodation, and they had moved to Cheshire to "rebuild their lives".
But Mr Justice Turner, sitting at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, said Mr Maloney had moved his family into six caravans on the land "in the full knowledge that this use of an agricultural site was in clear and obvious breach of planning control".
It comes after Cheshire East Council obtained an injunction last August which ordered Mr Maloney to stop any further building work at the site.
The authority took Mr Maloney to court for breaching the order by moving seven more caravans on to the land.
Finding him guilty of contempt of court for "disobeying" the injunction, Mr Justice Turner said Mr Maloney had had "no intention" of complying with it and that excuses he gave to council workers were "lies".
Sentencing him to an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, the judge said Mr Maloney's actions had caused the residents of Mobberley "considerable and wholly foreseeable concern and anxiety" but he had shown "little remorse".
Representing Cheshire East Council, barrister Jack Smyth said Mr Maloney had "a sword of Damocles hanging over him" because he risked going to prison if he continued to breach the council's injunction.
A planning application for three gypsy pitches on the site, submitted in August 2020, was turned down by Cheshire East Council in December. Mr Maloney has appealed against the decision.
Cllr Charlotte Leach (Mobberley)