Once-wealthy designer becomes a squatter in her own £1.6m home

Richard Chisnall rchisnall at gmail.com
Thu Dec 11 13:01:30 GMT 2008

Once-wealthy designer becomes a squatter in her own £1.6m home
Niece of writer Erich von Däniken says she feels 'like a super-tramp'


With a silvery Christmas wreath above the door knocker and a notice of
squatters' rights beneath, the entrance to the Old Rectory in
Kettlestone makes a peculiarly topical festive statement.

Inside lives Samantha von Däniken, a once wealthy interior designer
who has resorted to squatting in the £1.6m north Norfolk mansion after
being evicted for falling behind on her mortgage payments.

Von Däniken, 46, blames her insurance company, Halifax, because it
failed to pay out a substantial claim when trees fell on her property
during storms. She also believes that the courts did not give her a
sufficient chance to raise the money to make the repayments.

"It has become a £1.6m squat," Von Däniken, who has three children,
told the Guardian yesterday as she held her dog, Hector, on the
doorstep of her home. She was let back into the house by bailiffs -
claiming she needed to remove her furniture - and then claimed
squatters' rights four weeks ago.

"It's just stupid. I feel like a super-tramp. My children are in
different places, my furniture is in seven different locations and my
animals have been taken away by the RSPCA."

Even as the number of repossession notices across the country soars
and more borrowers struggle to pay mortgages, Von Däniken's fall looks
particularly extreme.

A few years ago she enjoyed a prosperous career as an interior
designer to George Harrison, the Pet Shop Boys and banking families
including the Rothschilds. Her ranges sold in Harrods and Liberty.

Success ran in the family. Her uncle was Erich von Däniken, who won
fame and fortune with books that presented what he claimed was
evidence of extraterrestrial influence on early human culture.

In search of rural peace in which to raise her children, she retreated
to the Old Rectory, a sprawling estate of buildings that includes more
than a dozen bedrooms in the main house, barns and stable blocks. By
the time she was evicted in August, she had run up a debt of more than
£1m and it was costing her £8,000 in monthly payments.

One of her plans was to turn the property into a "bohemian bed and
breakfast" place combined with a healing retreat. But given that the
boiler was stripped out by burglars after her eviction, the house is
now so cold you can see your breath; additionally, the bathrooms have
been ripped out and the only lavatory is in an outhouse.

Von Däniken's debts are with Kensington, a mortgage company with which
she has a mortgage of £680,000, and Swift, a loans company from which
she took a personal loan and which she now owes £415,000.

Her downfall began with a storm in January 2007 which brought a
200-year-old beech crashing on to her buildings. Her insurer at
Halifax settled only part of the claim, leaving her to make up the
remainder using her personal loan.

By that November she was struggling with the payments. Then the second
storm hit in February this year, sealing her fate. By August she was
in King's Lynn county court, where she was issued with a repossession

"It was 1.15pm on August 28 and I was told I would be evicted at 2pm,
so I raced the bailiffs back to the house," she said. "They told me I
had 15 minutes to get all my stuff out, which was impossible ... I
have eight bedrooms in the rectory alone. I loaded up the car as much
as I could with my sons. We went to a friend's for the night. Then for
three weeks I slept in the back of my Land Rover while the children
went to stay with their father."

The council did not rehouse her and she rented a one-bedroom flat in
Walsingham, Norfolk, until she decided she could not see her
collections of valuable Victorian and French furniture in the house
taken away. A month ago she claimed squatters' rights after the
bailiffs let her in.

"It was because of the Halifax that I lost my home and my children,"
she said. "It completely destroyed my life. I had over £500,000 of
equity in the property and I wasn't given a chance to make the
payments. They evicted me on the spot."

Von Däniken shares the house with other squatters, including Leah and
Holly Eatwell, who have travelled from London to benefit from the
attention of Von Däniken, who terms herself a natural healer and
psychic surgeon.

"I think the Halifax reached a view and stubbornly refused to budge
from it," said her local MP, Norman Lamb. "In this economic climate
the property will be sold at a grossly reduced rate. We are left with
a sense that all this should have been dealt with differently."

The Halifax said that the barn on which the first tree fell had a
commercial use for which Von Däniken was not insured. However, in a
letter from last year seen by the Guardian, north Norfolk council
accepts there is no business use for the barn in question and charges
her domestic rates.

The Halifax also said she had stopped paying her premium before the
second accident in February this year, and so the company did not
settle that claim. "There was no valid insurance in place," a
spokeswoman said. "We were unable to assist with any further payments.
The customer was notified of the consequences."

A spokesman for Swift, which secured the repossession notice, said:
"We followed procedures and protocol very closely. [Von Däniken] had
every opportunity to put her case before the judge. The matter is now
with Kensington to regain vacant possession. It is unfortunate but not
uncommon that customers find themselves in this position where they
have no means of meeting their instalments."

Kensington, which with Swift was behind the repossession action, said
it would be "inappropriate to offer comment" in such a complicated

Von Däniken said: "Every day we wake up, and every knock at the door
could be the last knock. It's soul destroying. We are on edge and


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