Herts and Minds

Reprinted from "Private Eye" magazine

Back in 1999, Sami El-Kalyoubi, a retired English Literature teacher, let a studio flat in Hemel Hempstead to a young man called Scott Lawrence. Almost at once, the tenant started to make a nuisance of himself, smashing up furniture and making racist remarks and threats to his landlord.

Mr. El-Kalyoubi, who was born in Egypt but is a naturalised British citizen, evicted his tenant. This provoked another round of racist abuse, including an attack on himself and his home. Mr. Lawrence was arrested and in 2000 convicted of racially aggravated harassment. He was sentenced to 150 hours' community service.

Meanwhile, however, the legal officers of Tory-controlled Dacorum Borough Council were taking a rather different view. They prosecuted Mr. El-Kalyoubi for "Illegal eviction". His complaints to the council were brusquely rejected, and his attempts to have the matter investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman turned down. In December 2000, Hemel magistrates dismissed the case.

That, it seemed, was the end of the matter. But the council appealed and the divisional court sent the matter back to the magistrates. The case wound its way to Luton Crown Court in February this year, but Scott Lawrence, the convicted racist and star witness, didn't turn up. Mr. El-Kalyoubi was again acquitted. He estimates his own defence costs (all on legal aid) at 20,000 to 25,000, and the costs to the council at about the same.

P.S. Dacorum's website includes a fine-sounding mission statement which includes the words, "We will respect and seek to understand the differences ... between people of different cultural backgrounds." Mr. El-Kalyoubi is still trying to work out exactly how this applies to him.

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