By Eloise Horsfield
Four British expats saw their Spanish retirement dreams turn to dust after their homes were flattened. The demolitions, which began on Tuesday in the rural village of Cantoria, bring the total of British-owned homes destroyed in the province of Almeria, Andalusia, to five.
One home belongs to Margaret Hegarty, 71, and her husband Peter, 64. The other belongs to a second retired British couple, Janet and Frank Doel.
The Andalusian government deemed that both homes had been built illegally – a problem that has dogged hundreds of British home owners who have bought in the region.
“We’ve known at some point it was going to happen,” said Mrs Hegarty, speaking from her rented home in Scotland. “But when it does happen it’s still a bit of a shock. We’ll just have to get on with things and not think about it too much.”
“It’s been eight years and we’re still not any further on. The courts have let us down totally. It was a waste of time going. It’s not made a blind bit of difference.
“In a few weeks’ time it’ll all be forgotten about. Now the villa’s gone, there’s not a reminder.”
“And our money’s gone too,” added Mr Hegarty.
The Hegartys bought the £139,000 villa in 2005, using the proceeds from the sale of their home in Great Oakley, Northamptonshire, and an early retirement payment for Mr Hegarty, who worked for British Steel for 33 years.
“We sold everything, more or less, and went over,” said Mrs Hegarty, who first saw the house in an estate agent’s window in Cantoria.
“They took us round to have a look at it. We really liked it because it was such a nice position. You were surrounded by the hills and you could look over right into the village. It’s a lovely place.”
The couple moved in at the end of 2005, spending a further £20,000 on fittings and furnishings. Early in 2006, regional government officers and armed police came to their home and told them it was illegal because it had been built on rural land.
“They looked at the paperwork and said it was worthless,” said Mrs Hegarty, a retired assembly line worker. “I phoned the builder, and he said, ‘Oh, it’s a mistake. It’s OK, we shall sort it out.’” Some weeks later, the water and the electricity were cut off.
They were issued with a demolition order in 2009 and have since been waiting while a lawyer fights for compensation. In 2011, they moved back to the UK and currently live in a rented home in Winchburgh, near Edinburgh.
“We stuck it out as long as possible,” said Mrs Hegarty. “Then I took ill. I had a heart attack. It was very, very stressful. We were worried all the time they were going to come and bulldoze the place. That’s why we decided to cut our losses and come back.
A court ruled that a total of €790,000 (£628,800) should be awarded to the Hegartys and another British couple whose home was flattened this week – plus two other British home owners whose house was bulldozed in October 2013. But this is not enforceable.
“It’s not sympathy we want. We just want our money back so we can have a bit of a life,” said Mrs Hegarty.
Maura Hillen, president of AUAN, an action group representing illegal home owners, said: “As the law stands the judge doesn’t have the authority to force that payment. He has no more power than to set the amount of compensation.
“The court proceedings take so long, the accused have ample time to move their assets. By the time the amount is set to pick the guilty party’s pockets, those pockets are empty.”
“It’s a crazy situation that’s crucifying people who never did anything wrong. All they wanted to do is live in the sunshine, enjoying their retirement.
“We blame the administration for allowing the rascally promoters to carry on with impunity.”
“I think they’re just waiting for us to die off now,” said Mrs Hegarty. “Then they don’t have to worry about paying us. They’re just getting on with their lives, no remorse. They just don’t care. They’ve got the money, and that’s it.”
The AUAN represents around 580 British home owners in Almeria facing legality issues. Since 2008, 16 homes have been destroyed in the province. Three more British-owned homes have been handed demolition orders, with hundreds more at various stages of legal battles. There are an estimated 300,000 illegal homes in Andalusia in total.
Credit: The Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk