Eastbourne hotelier Sheikh Abid Gulzar has been £45,000 and ordered to pay costs of £90,000 after being found guilty of damaging a protected conservation site on Pevensey Levels.
Natural England brought the prosecution against 68-year-old Mr Gulzar, of Mansion Lions Hotel in Grand Parade, following the discovery of a series of damaging activities carried out on his land within the Pevensey Levels Site of Special Scientific Interest – none of which had been given consent.
Mr Gulzar said this week the court’s decision was “shocking” and that he was disappointed.
Prior to resorting to legal action, Natural England said it had attempted to meet with Mr Gulzar on several occasions to discuss the management of the site, but these meeting requests were refused.
At a hearing at Hastings Magistrates Court in November, Mr Gulzar pleaded guilty to three offences of carrying out operations without Natural England’s consent, including planting of non-native trees, erecting fencing, and erecting temporary structures.
Since then, he has also pleaded guilty to the remaining charges of constructing a track and a bridge.
At a recent hearing, held in Mr Gulzar’s absence which the court is entitled to do, he was fined and ordered to pay the costs. Janette Ward, Natural England’s regulation director, said, “Pevensey Levels is a fragile, historic area, which needs to be managed sympathetically to safeguard the rare species that survive there.
“We attempted to negotiate with Mr Gulzar many times before we brought this prosecution, but he declined to engage in any way leaving us no option but to take legal action to help protect the site.
“We work with many landowners on SSSIs across the country, and with careful management it is possible for a wide range of activities to be carried out with our consent. We trust that Mr Gulzar will now feel more able to work with us and manage this special site more appropriately.”
Mr Gulzar issued a statement on Wednesday and said, “It was shocking, the decision a complete mockery of the justice system.
“I am seriously unwell under doctor’s treatment and DGH investigation. Hence as requested by court local medical centre supplied directly Brighton Magistrate Court of my being unfit to attend, due to back surgery, painkillers and further treatments, professionally certified to the court.
“I was particularly disappointed that the judge allowed the hearing and sentencing to go ahead on Monday in my absence which is unlawful. That is a basic right of anybody, surely.
“The lake and 1.5 acre immediate surrounding land in Pevensey has and was never used for any commercial or profit making and was designed solely for the enjoyment and benefit of local charities for free day visits for elderly, disabled, hospice residents and local fundraising whereby my personal contributions of over £20,000 were made annually to over six local charities from my own pocket.
“Despite this travesty of justice, I still vow to continue my charity work and support of the local community. On September 27 I am hosting free of charge breakfast and coffee morning to support the Macmillan Cancer Support charity.
“I am highly let down by the government bodies, bearing in mind that I also personally paid more than £40,000 for the public pavements on Eastbourne seafront to be re-done properly for the safety of my customers and all who visits this beautiful town.
“No benefit to myself or my building yet such kindness and compassion and love for this town is met with a kick in the face.
“At my age working seven days, employing 160 staff during some of the toughest economic times this country has faced, government and local councils should be doing all they can to support major tax paying, locally contributing biggest employers to stay in business and penalise colossal amounts when no damage has been done and before court date mostly reinstated to original state in any case.
“Verbal support was never made practical by Natural England.”