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A man who suffers from a phobia of open spaces has had his 14 day jail sentence for failing to pay poll tax arrears to Gillingham BC overturned by London's High Court.

David MacGregor served four days of the jail term imposed in his absence by Medway Magistrates on January 27 last year before being released on bail.

And Mr Justice Schiemann ruled that the magistrates had been 'wrong in principle' to proceed against him in his absence after hearing of his acute agoraphobia.

Outside court, his solicitor, Mr Richard Wise, said Mr MacGregor would now be joining an action group of up to 100 others who had been wrongly jailed over poll tax arrears.

In what Mr Wise said was the largest group action of its kind ever faced by the British Government, the action group plans to go to the European Court in search of compensation.

Justice Schiemann heard that Gillingham BC sought Mr MacGregor's committal to prison after he failed to keep up with £7 a week instalments on his poll tax debts.

Mr MacGregor did not attend Medway Magistrates on January 27 last year. But he did send copies of letters from a doctor and a psychiatric nurse explaining that his extreme agoraphobia meant he was unable to attend court.

Despite the letters, the Magistrates went ahead with the committal hearing in his absence. The judge said the magistrates' decision to go ahead with the hearing in his absence was 'wrong in principle' and ordered that the jail term be overturned.

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