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Jan ter Horst

Steve Grant:
For a bloke who’s had his fair share of anni horribiles over the last 28 years, 2016 stood out as particularly dreadful for Jan ter Horst.

The Beaconsfield pensioner’s been imprisoned, raided, fined, firebombed and ridiculed because of his fight with Fremantle council over a subdivision gone wrong, but his ex-wife Joan’s death from cancer last year hit hardest.

Joan and the couple’s son Karl walked out at the height of the Dutchman’s legal battles more than 20 years ago, fearing they would lose everything; the two men haven’t spoken since but Mr ter Horst and his ex-wife remained friends.

“I was close to her until the day she died,” Mr ter Horst says.

He accompanied her to a myriad of visits to hospitals and specialists in her final year, which meant removing the iconic coffin from the roof of his car.

“You can’t drive into the oncologists with a coffin on your car, it’s not a good look,” Mr ter Horst says.

But with a new year the coffin’s back and he’s got a renewed determination to seek justice and compensation over what most agree was a system stacked against the little guy.

It’s exactly 30 years since Mr ter Horst hired surveyor John Guidice to prepare a strata subdivision of his property on Moran Court, stipulating the lower of the two resulting blocks should have a height limit to protect his precious ocean view.

It was sold for $110,000, with the new owners to pay instalments as they built.

But along the way they dumped truckloads of fill on the block and as Mr ter Horst watched in horror, the roofline crept past his limit and took out some of the view.

He complained to Fremantle council and asked for a stop-work order; instead its planning department approached the builder and told them to submit a revised planning application. It was approved, but a critical clause from the original application that “existing ground level to be used” had been scrubbed out.

Mr ter Horst says this was the council’s first act of corruption, as he was still listed on the title as owner of the property and the strata plan was under his name. Only he had the legal right to alter either the planning application or the sub-division.

The new owners then asked for the title to the property so they could secure a loan to finish the house. They took him to the Supreme Court when he refused, arguing the contract stated handover could only occur when the building was completed and conformed to the strata plan.

But on the basis of the council’s approval, the judge ordered Mr ter Horst to hand over the title or he’d be in contempt of court and would be imprisoned indefinitely.

The obstinate Dutchman refused and spent 91 days in four prisons; the longest contempt sentence in WA history. Former WA premiers Brian Burke and Ray O’Connor were also in the pokey at the time.

Mr ter Horst went on a hunger strike and ended up in a wheelchair; with concerns about his failing health making embarrassing headlines, lands minister George Cash and attorney general Cheryl Edwards instructed the Crown Law department to get new titles and transfers issued on his behalf.

He was out of gaol, but legally locked out of anything to do with the contested block. Rubbing salt in the wound, the final instalment of $44,000 was given to the lawyers who’d helped put him away.

Mr ter Horst then turned his attention to seeking compensation and justice. A police report found there was a prima facie case of fraud, perjury, corruption and obstruction of justice against various people involved in the case, but it was buried. Mysteriously, the report was referred to the DPP and assessed by one of the people involved in pushing through the new property titles; why they didn’t declare a conflict of interest has never been disclosed, nor was their advice back to police about possible charges.

The issue was also examined by a parliamentary committee which cleared Mr ter Horst of any wrongdoing and criticised Fremantle council for its handling of the matter.

There have been several attempts between the council and Mr ter Horst to mediate a settlement and apology, but they’ve come to nought and as the years tick past, his compensation claim rises.

Mr ter Horst says it’s almost impossible to get a lawyer to represent him, but if he could he reckons he’s a shoe-in for a good $20 million plus payout.

“I will never give up until the day I die,” says Mr ter Horst. (Fremantle Herald, 10 February 2017)

References and Links

Fremantle Herald, 10 February 2017.

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