A disabled woman from an Ilkeston village hailed an action group, members of which she has never met, as her ‘saviours’ after they stepped in amid moves to evict her from her home.
Some 30 members of the Response Midlands campaign and other affiliated groups — some of whom wore masks — gathered outside the home of Michelle Wheatley, 54, on Coronation Road in Stanley village as part of a peaceful protest as bailiffs arrived.
The group, who were all strangers before they met to stand up for Mrs Wheatley, heard via Facebook that the mother-of-four and grandmother-of-eight was to be evicted, and travelled from around the East Midlands, they say, to protect her legal rights.
Dozens arrived at the house from 9.30am, and when bailiffs, police and a locksmith arrived separately at around midday, they took stock of the situation and left without attempting to enter the house.
Michelle and her husband Barry, 58, own the house and have a mortgage on the property. They were not present when the bailiffs arrived.
Forklift-truck driver Barry was at work while Michelle was attending an emergency appeal meeting to dispute the eviction threat.
The Advertiser understands the action relates to an alleged historic debt.
Michelle claims she has been fighting against eviction since 2005, with a recurring dispute over a debt that made her husband bankrupt.
“There is no debt anymore but they are still chasing it,” she said. “It’s not the mortgage, we’re up to date with the mortgage. They’ve got it all wrong.”
She added: “These people are my saviours to step in like this, I can’t imagine if they hadn’t been there.”
Michelle’s son, Craig Wheatley, 29, said he was worried about the toll the threat of eviction was taking on his mum.
“With all the stress she’s been under, I get her sobbing down the phone, terrified when the bailiffs are coming round,” he said. “I’m worried she’s going to end up in an early box. She really is struggling to cope with it all.”
‘Paul’, the founder of Response and a member of the activism network Anonymous, said: “They (bailiffs and other authorities) do a risk assessment of the situation and if there are not enough officers to enforce the eviction they just leave.”
Trainee solicitor Paul started Response three months ago, connecting people on Facebook who are able to respond quickly to an eviction notice, and muster support to ensure people are not ‘unlawfully evicted’ from their homes.
He added: “The police have claimed we’re activists but we’re just here in the interests of the people.
“They’ve claimed that because I’ve got a mask on my face I must be involved in something illegal. But we’re not protesting anything, we’re just making sure people are treated properly under legislation.”
A spokesperson for Derbyshire police confirmed that there was an incident at Coronation Road but did not confirm who made the call.
“Someone who attended was concerned for their safety as a threat of damage was allegedly made by a member of the group,” they said.
“The police don’t play any role in evictions as they are a civil matter but we sometimes attend to make sure there is no breach of the peace.”
Paul denied that any threats were made to anyone on the street.
“In all of the evictions we’ve attended not one of us has been violent,” he added. “We’re peaceful, intelligent people who just want to help.”
The name of the company or the organisation enforcing the eviction notice is not known.