WARM tributes have been paid to Len Prior who died last week at the age of 77, 14 years after he and his wife, Helen, reluctantly became infamous as the first expat couple to have their ‘illegal’ home demolished in southern Spain.
The Priors first made headlines in January 2008 when bulldozers were sent in by local authorities to flatten their villa in Vera, just inland from Almeria’s coast in Andalucia, over so-called “planning irregularities”.
Their nightmare began one morning when they were given just a few hours to vacate their beautiful two-storey villa and save what belongings they could before the bulldozer was sent in.
Because despite having the correct planning permission issued by Vera town hall, the regional government of Andalucia had revoked the licence and ordered the villa to be torn down.
Len collapsed to the ground as he watched the destruction of the villa which they had named “Tranquillidad” in the expectation of the peaceful retirement they planned after selling up in Wokingham, Berkshire.
Instead they spent their twilight years battling Spain’s complicated justice system while blame was passed between town hall and regional planning authorities.
Only the garage on their property was left standing and it is there as well as a caravan on the site that they lived for the next 14 years, using a noisy generator to power their home and bringing in bottled water because their access to services had been cut.
In 2016, the Priors, who are grandparents to six and great grandparents to three, won a hollow victory when a court ruled that their local town hall had been wrong to send in the bulldozers and ordered Vera council to pay them compensation of just €200,000.
However, the figure was barely enough to cover the legal costs they had racked up over their eight year battle, let alone compensate for the loss of their retirement dream, a home which was valued at €690,000 the day it was knocked down.
The case made headlines both in Spain and Britain and the couple have been instrumental in ensuring that no similar fate will befall other homeowners.
In 2016 following a campaign championed by the Priors, Spain’s government introduced legislation to protect homeowners who bought in good faith from having their homes demolished until compensation was agreed in advance.
The pair travelled up to Madrid to visit the Senate as the law passed, a day that stands out in the memory of Gerardo Vazquez, a lawyer with AUAN, the pressure group representing hundreds of expat homeowners in the Almeria region whose properties have been declared illegal, and who worked with the Priors since the very beginning.
“I like to remember him, happy, with his wife Helen in the Spanish Senate when a prize was given in their name and that of the associations of people with planning problems who were beginning to get solutions,” Vazquez told the Olive Press.
“In these memories Len is still there for me and others.”
For fellow campaigner and former local councillor, Maura Hillen of AUAN, Len was instrumental in changing the narrative.
“If it wasn’t for the likes of Len Prior many more people would have ended up standing in the rubble of their demolished homes,” Hillen told the Olive Press.
“Until Len and Helen’s house was demolished, owners of so called illegal homes were seen to be in on it somehow and part of the problem.
“Thanks to Len’s resilience, good humour and sheer bloody mindedness that narrative began to change.
“Helen and Len’s willingness to stand up for their rights inspired others and the struggle to regularise these types of properties permeated in society to such an extent that several laws were changed.
“He made a big difference for many homeowners, now and in the future.
“I remember with fondness his funny stories, his make do and mend attitude which came in handy when you had to live in your garage, his love of flying model aircraft and his complete disregard for anyone’s status in life.
“As for the latter I was sometimes quite grateful that he did not speak Spanish very well when we were trying to be our diplomatic best in parliament or in the Senate or wherever he went willingly with us in support of the cause.
“A good man who will be greatly missed and my sincere condolences go to Helen and to his family,” she added.
“Len was a real gentleman. Always cheerful and ready to help,” echoed Vazquez. “He used to share his stories with us when we travelled to Seville and Madrid with Helen and Maura, to fight for changes in the law, to prevent what happened to him and Helen happening to others. I can almost see and hear him now. A sad loss. My love and condolences to Helen, the rest of the family and friends,” he said.
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