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Barrister and wife deliberately demolished home without permission of bank - court rules

A barrister and his wife deliberately demolished their south Belfast home without the permission of a bank owed nearly £800,000, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Horner held that Anthony and Grainne Brennan breached their mortgage arrangements by knocking down the property and starting to build two semi-detached houses on the vacant land.

He refused the couple's bid to overturn an order granting the Bank of Scotland possession of the property at Upper Malone Road.

The judge said: "These appellants had deliberately razed the house to the ground. This was an egregious breach of the terms of the charge."

Mr and Mrs Brennan borrowed from the bank to buy the property for £800,000 in July 2007 at the height of Northern Ireland's housing boom.

One of the conditions of the loan was that they obtained permission from the bank before making any structural alterations.

But after moving in with their children they allegedly discovered the house was in a much worse state than the pre-purchase surveyor's report indicated.

Mr Brennan was described in court as a qualified barrister with a responsible position in the Civil Service.

Due to falling into arrears he and his wife were served with notice to quit in April 2010. The bank also commenced moves to seek possession of the property.

The couple had, however, obtained planning permission to knock down the house and build two semi-detached homes in its place.

Sometime in mid 2010 the property was "unilaterally demolished", the court heard.

With the Brennan family later moving into rented accommodation, they also purchased a property in Downpatrick to be developed into a nursery.

By November last year the amount due to the bank was £797,000.

Proposals for repaying the arrears included selling one of the partially completed semi-detached houses for £400,000 and the nursery for £450,000.

Last June, however, a High Court Master granted the Bank possession of the Upper Malone Road property.

In a newly published ruling on the Brennans appeal against that order, Mr Justice Horner acknowledged there was no dwelling house at the time proceedings were launched.

He said: "They have also breached the conditions of the mortgage by demolishing the house without the bank's permission, an order for possession in favour of the Bank is unavoidable even if the destruction of the dwelling house is ignored."

The judge dismissed any suggestion that a short adjournment would give them the chance to pay off the arrears.

Proposals put forward can best be described as "wish lists" and "divorced from reality", he said.

Mr Justice Horner added: "This is especially disappointing because the first named appellant is a legally qualified barrister and he must have realised that such a proposal, unsupported by independent and objective evidence, was bound to be rejected."

Refusing to grant a stay of enforcement, he confirmed: "Given the obvious and serious breaches of the conditions of the charge by the appellants, and for which no satisfactory explanation has been offered, the making of an order for possession is both in accordance with the law and proportionate.

"The Master was correct.  This court affirms his decision without hesitation."

Belfast Telegraph