Three sons of a pensioner who died after being evicted from her home of 61 years have said their mother died of a ‘broken heart’ after they lost a final appeal to stay in the property.
May Appleton, 87, lost a three-year legal battle with a housing association after her lifelong collection of memorabilia was deemed a fire hazard.
With her three sons, Brian, 63, Paul, 51, and Mark, 53, the family were forced out of their home by bailiffs last March and started living in a Travelodge paid for by the housing trust.
The family say they were then granted permission to return to the house by a judge, but before they were able to do so, Mrs Appleton died – just three months after she was evicted.
Now, the trio have lost a final appeal to stay in the home – and are being threatened with eviction again in February.
A letter from WVHT to the family says they have called a ‘Christmas truce’ over the festive period.
However, the possession order will come into effect on February 12 and the housing trust maintains that if they are refused access to carry out up-to-date safety inspections, the eviction will go ahead.
Mrs Appleton’s eldest son, Brian, believes being forced to leave their family home definitely contributed to his mother’s death.
He said: ‘The eviction most definitely took its toll on mum, she never went to the doctors and didn’t need medication beforehand.
‘She was mentally capable and volunteered at church groups and was extremely active.
‘Mum never had any major illnesses until she went to the Travelodge.
‘But after she went to the Travelodge she lost the will to live and wasn’t the same person.
‘To go from someone that had been so vibrant to someone who wasn’t interested in anything was heartbreaking to see.
‘She died of a broken heart, there is no doubt about it.’
Mrs Appleton had built up a collection of hundreds of dolls, Star Wars and Action Man toys, teddy bears and autographs from Hollywood stars of the 1930s during her lifetime.
She’d lined them up in neatly packed plastic bags along the staircase of her home.
Among the items was also a card from the Queen Mother sent to May’s parents to thank them for taking in evacuees during the Second World War.
WVHT claimed their large amount of possessions posed a fire hazard – a concern the trust says was confirmed by Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service.
Judith Burbidge, director of neighbourhoods and wellbeing at Weaver Vale Housing Trust, said: ‘Despite our efforts and those of our partners and people within the community, we have repeatedly been denied access to the property to carry out up-to-date safety inspections and have been unable to reach an agreement that would allow the property to be cleared to reduce the fire risk.
‘We never take action like this lightly, but after exhausting all other options, we were left with no alternative but to seek a possession order.’
Brian added: ‘It’s not illegal to have as many possessions as you want. Mum has a substantial collection and it’s worth quite a bit of money. It’s not just junk.’
The family say they never fell behind on their rent and were described as ‘pillars of the community’.
The official cause of Mrs Appleton’s death was ‘community-acquired pneumonia’.
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Ms Burbidge continued: ‘Over the past five years we, along with partners including Cheshire West and Chester Council and a number of agencies, have attempted to work with the Appleton family to explore every option available to make the property safe for them to live in.
‘This follows Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service determining that the house was a serious fire hazard.
‘We have followed the ruling of the court throughout this case and we will continue to work with Cheshire West and Chester Council to ensure the Appleton brothers are offered support by the local authority.
‘The safety of our tenants and neighbours must come first, and our priority throughout this case has been to make the house safe for those living in the property, neighbours and others visiting the home.’