Canal & River Trust returns unlawfully seized boat

Published: Wednesday, 30 December 2020

THE Canal & River Trust (CRT) was forced to return a seized boat following the threat of legal action by its live-aboard owner, explains the National Bargee Travellers Association.  (NBTA).

The charity had seized the boat, which actually had a valid licence at the time, on 6th August 2020 without obtaining a Court Order, which is unlawful if a boat is used as a home. The Human Rights Act 1998 entitles citizens to have the proportionality of removing their home assessed by an independent court and to defend themselves in a fair trial.

Proceeding against Canal & River Trust

The boat, Milasa, was returned to its owner Paul Buga on 24th November 2020 after his solicitor commenced Judicial Review proceedings against CRT.

CRT had claimed that the boat was not Mr Buga’s home and that there was no evidence that he lived in it.  However, Mr Buga lives in a pair of boats of which Milasa is the motor boat. Milasa was therefore Mr Buga’s only means of complying with the law regarding boat movement.  The Solicitor argued that Milasa had a valid licence, was an essential part of Mr Buga’s home and that it had moved in accordance with CRT’s current requirements.  A Claim Form should have been issued giving Mr Buga the opportunity to defend himself in Court against the removal of the boat.

Paul Buga hunger strikeNBTA stepped in for his wellbeing

Paul Buga had previously been on hunger strike for more than two weeks outside Downing Street in an attempt to get his boat back from CRT.  Alerted to concerns for his wellbeing, the NBTA stepped in to support him and to find him a solicitor.

The photograph shows Paul Buga on day 17 of his hunger strike outside Downing Street.  Photograph by Jay Brown.

CRT returned the boat to the owner on the River Lea free of charge, paying for craning and road haulage from Chester. The boat had been seized by CRT and its subcontractors Commercial Boat Services (CBS), who took it to premises believed to be under CBS control at Greenwall's Farm, Dodleston, Chester. The NBTA believes from previous experience that all boats seized by CRT are taken by road to these premises.

Paid 12 months but only recorded as six

In the course of assisting Mr Buga, the NBTA identified a number of defects in CRT’s online licensing system.  Mr Buga applied online for a 12 months Rivers Only licence, paid for it, and was provided with a correct receipt for the licence. However, the CaRT online licensing system recorded this as a six months Standard Canal & River Licence, which happened to be the same price. This occurred twice.  This discrepancy was central to CRT’s decision to seize the boat, as CRT’s computer system wrongly flagged the boat as unlicensed when in fact the licence had six more months to run.

This appears to be a systemic problem with the CRT online licensing system. The NBTA advises boaters to check that the licence that they bought and received a receipt for is the same as the licence recorded on their CRT online licensing account.