FOR two decades it had been the dream retirement home of British couple David and Janet Hartshorn.
The four-bedroom villa in the hills above the Costa del Sol had all the hallmarks of the perfect escape from rainy, cold north-west England.
The retired publicans from Cheshire, had long dreamed of their place in the sun.
So when the opportunity of buying the dreamy Torrox plot came up, they jumped at the opportunity.
However, Villa Arco Iris, which means ‘rainbow’ in English, has proved to be anything but its namesake and rather than a pot of gold it has left them hundreds of thousands of euros out of pocket.
The couple had fallen for the age-old trick of trusting local tradesmen in southern Spain.
They had been assured by building firm Nertor that they would be able to develop a small shack on a plot of land into the sizable retreat they valued at €500,000 last year.
But just one year after buying it, they discovered it was illegal.
And that is where their nightmare began.
Some two decades later at exactly 9.01am on April 5, 2022, a town hall bulldozer started on a 40-minute rampage to reduce it to rubble.
Their countless pleas to Malaga Court to reconsider, even including a request to give up the property to Ukrainian refugees, were all in vain.
The authorities were adamant that it should not have been built and never had the correct permission.
Despite enlisting lawyers and local pressure group SOHA nothing could be done.
To add insult to injury, the cost of the demolition work will be charged to the couple – to the tune of €24,000.
Now the plot, formerly an idyllic setting for the Hartshorns’ and their family friends to spend long summers, has been reduced to a derelict building site.
“It is very distressing and a big part of our life’s work has been turned to rubble,” David told the Olive Press. “We have put all our life savings into this work, and now it’s all been taken away.”
He continued: “It beggars belief how this can happen. Consultation with certain Spanish contractors is a downfall from the beginning. They bend the truth.”
On Monday morning, David, accompanied by daughter Adelle, 46, who had flown over from England for moral support, finally accepted the fate of their beloved home.
The only legal part of the house is an uninhabitable 20-square-metre annexe.
This was spared by the demolition team but it will come as little consolation to the Hartshorns, who have been forced to move in with friends nearby and who will leave the country for good on May 6.
The case echoes that of Len and Helen Prior in Almeria who watched as bulldozers flattened their villa after it was deemed illegal by the town hall in Vera.
For 13 years they lived in the garage on the plot, while they mounted a legal battle that eventually declared the demolition was illegal. They won damages that amounted to the fraction of their legal costs.
Another victim Gurney Davey saw his home razed to the ground in the Guadalhorce Valley last year in June.
The Olive Press has previously reported on 30,000 homes in Andalucia that were retroactively made legal in urban planning law change.
But such a law has not been extended to the Cheshire couple.
“I was not able to watch the demolition, it was too painful,” David explained.
But his daughter was on hand to video the sad final moments, which have now been uploaded on Facebook.
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