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Council raid ‘unlawful’

A Midland couple are threatening to take their local council and a dozen of its members and their county council to court for raiding their farm and home in a search for unregistered dogs.

Craig and Marjorie Walsh, who run Britain's first luxury dog resort, have served letters before action for trespass and associated abuses of power on no less than 12 officials from Malvern Hills District Council and Worcestershire County Council who raided Lucies Farm and their home near Worcester on January 10 without warning while the Walshes were away.

The incensed couple have also served on Worcestershire County Council's trading standards department final solicitors letters for the return of personal information including their medical histories and credit card details taken after one of its computer forensics specialists imaged their computer during the raid and made file copies contrary to the Data Protection Act.

The couple had complained incessantly to Malvern Hills District Council after its Street Scene department, which is supposed to tackle issues such as fly-tipping and illegal parking, had searched their premises for evidence that they were overcrowded with dogs – even though only one dog was in residence at the time.

Mr Walsh, who is registered as being disabled, and his wife believe that the raid followed a complaint by a vindictive neighbour. They were particularly upset that the computer information obtained was used to contact clients of their dog hotel to elicit their views about the business.

When Worcestershire County Council finally wrote back seven months later to confirm that it had found no wrongdoing and that its investigation was at an end, the couple said they received neither an apology nor the return of their personal data which they were told would be archived.
After lawyers advised them that the raid and seizure were unlawful, the couple have now served letters before action on both councils and the individuals concerned for trespass allegations and the return of their data along with a claim for damages and legal costs of up to £150,000.

Mr Walsh said: “My wife and I have been put through hell by two councils that believe they can ride roughshod over the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. We believe this invasion of our farm and home was unlawful and without justification.”

Mr and Mrs Walsh, who moved into farming ten years ago after running a successful finance company together, launched their dog resort in 2004, with up to ten animals at a time enjoying pampering in a purpose-designed hotel certified to the highest welfare standards.

Marjorie Walsh is a leading canine nutritionist, and her recipe book Cooking for Dogs, published by New Holland Publishers, was a culinary best seller last Christmas.