A disabled man whose narrow boats were removed from the Kennet & Avon Canal has been given until Monday (February 12) to settle an unpaid debt of £17,381.97 or face further legal action.

The Canal & River Trust, through its solicitors Wilkin Chapman LLP, is threatening George Ward with ‘immediate court proceedings’ over an unpaid debt which is still outstanding.

Mr Ward, 62, who is now living in a van in a field somewhere between Chippenham, Melksham and Devizes, has been unable to pay the debt as he is unemployed and lives on disability benefits.

In a recent letter dated February 5, the Grimsby-based law firm has chased him for payment, saying: “We refer to our previous correspondence and can confirm that there is still an outstanding balance due to our client in the sum of £17,381.97.

 “Unless we receive payment of this sum within the next seven days, we will immediately issue court proceedings against you.

“This will involve you being issued with a claim form which you will have a limited time to respond to. Should we receive no response we will immediately enter judgment against you.

“Judgment will remain on your financial records for six years and will severely affect your credit rating.

“Furthermore, once judgment has been obtained, our client will be at liberty to proceed with enforcement against you. This will incur further extensive costs which you will be liable to pay.

“In order to avoid this action, we look forward to receiving payment by the date requested.”

Mr Ward has only one eye and is registered disabled. He lives on the government’s  Employment and Support Allowance.

He said: “The Canal & River Trust Ltd is now demanding money with menaces in the full knowledge that I am a vulnerable person who relies upon disability benefits (ESA).”

The debts relate to two Canal and River Trust invoices of £1,314.68 and £16,061.29 following the removal of his boat the March Hare from the canal near Bradford on Avon on May 11 last year.

The first bill relates to unpaid licence fees of £989.68 from May 1 2022 to May 11 2023 for the 50-foot March Hare and the £325 cost of courier fees for returning some of his personal possessions.

The second and larger bill relates to unpaid licence fees of £1,109.29 for the period May 1 2022 to April 19 2023 when his 70-ft boat Celtic was removed from the Kennet & Avon Canal.

The cost of the removal was billed by the Trust as £12,369 for the use of one contractor and £2,583 for a second contractor.

The Trust obtained eviction orders in January 2023 and told him to remove his two unlicensed boats, the March Hare and The Celtic, from the canal, which he failed to do.

The Trust tried but failed to remove the March Hare on April 19 when he defiantly locked himself inside but succeeded in removing The Celtic on that date.

The March Hare was later removed on May 11. Both boats were transported to a storage yard near Chester.

Following the removal of the March Hare on May 11, Mr Ward lived for several weeks in a tent on the canal towpath near Smelly Bridge between Bradford on Avon and Avoncliff.

He was forced to leave the towpath in August after the Trust obtained a fresh court order for trespass at a Bristol County Court hearing on July 26 2023, which he failed to attend.

Mr Ward was told his boats would be sold unless he could find the money by October 13 to get them returned. The March Hare was advertised for sale in January at £11,500.