The names in this story have not been changed. All this really happened.
It was a cold November afternoon. It was getting dark. Daniel Cegielka, his wife and their four-month old baby were on their way home from the town centre. Daniel and Magdalena came from Poland and had been living in their rented house in Southampton for 2 years. They were good neighbours and good tenants, paying their rent regularly, in cash at the landlord’s insistence. The Cegielka’s family was really happy in Southampton. Daniel worked hard and when little Hubert was born, the young parents created a safe and cosy home for their baby. The future looked bright until 14th November 2008 when, after returning home, they found that the lock in the door had been changed.
They suddenly found themselves homeless with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, a few bags of shopping they were carrying home from ASDA and a few toys in the pram where their little boy slept, happily oblivious to the fact that he had just lost his home. They lost all their property – clothes, furniture, documents, food, everything necessary for their daily life. They decided to call the police but the landlord got there first. To prevent them from making a complaint he did call the police and accused Daniel of assaulting a vulnerable elderly lady (the landlord mother).
So, when the Cegielka’s family was waiting on the street for the police arrival hoping it would be the end of the trouble, they were wrong. It was just the beginning. The police arrived and a few minutes later Daniel found himself in a police car, handcuffed, and being taken into custody. His wife and the baby in the pram were left on the street. It was a dark and cold November night.
It is impossible to imagine how Daniel spent that night in custody. He says: ‘I felt like banging my head against the wall. My wife was there on the street, with the baby, homeless and alone, and there was nothing I could do to protect them. It was a nightmare I still cannot recover from’.
Magdalena and the baby did not spend that night on the street. We would not allow it in Southampton. Another Polish family welcomed her into their home. Daniel was released from custody when, after many long hours of investigation, it turned out that there was no evidence to charge him with an assault. However, the recovery of the belongings from their lost home turned out to be impossible. When Daniel went there with the police the landlord would not open the door and denied any knowledge of the family. He said they had never left anything there as they had never lived there.
“This is a civil matter” the police told Daniel as they left.
Daniel went to Southampton City Council to ask for help. They did help – they gave Daniel a beautifully printed brochure, written in Polish, one of these ‘know your rights’ publications containing the great revelation that a landlord cannot evict tenants without notice. And that’s it. As if Daniel didn’t know that an illegal eviction is illegal.
Knowing their rights did not solve the Cegielka family’s problem. A City Council housing adviser referred Daniel to local solicitors.
As for a civil case, Daniel was not able to launch this. Though homeless and deprived of all his belongings in England, he was a property owner in Poland and therefore he was not entitled to legal aid. This property in Poland is the house that Daniel’s parents put in his name, while reserving the right to live there for the rest of their lives. So, we are asking a lady in City Council: “should Daniel evict his elderly parents (maybe a rest home would be the solution?) and sell the family home in Poland to raise funds for a civil case against his landlord in England?” The lady from City Council said “I am afraid that this is an option. Daniel needs to think about it and decide what he would find most appropriate”.
We have chosen a different option – praying for a miracle. Praying for someone who would take care of the Cegielkas’ case on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. Together with the Cegielkas we have compiled a long and sad list of losses and damages, not only furniture, clothing, computer, domestic appliances, documents, certificates, payslips, but also many items of priceless sentimental value.
Christmas was coming soon, and for little Hubert it was supposed to be his first Christmas in Poland. For his grandparents it was supposed to be their first Christmas with their very first grandson. Unfortunately, among the lost property were all the Cegielka family’s documents, including Hubert’s brand new first passport issued during the last visit of the Polish consulate to the SOS office in Southampton. The family had to start everything again from scratch. The consulate was very helpful, however there was no time for the new passports to come, and the Cegielka family had to spend this special Christmas in England.
Finally, a miracle happened. We found a solicitor who wasn’t worried about ‘no fee’ as he was very confident that there would be a ‘win’.
Mr Leszek Werenowski, British born from Polish parents, a solicitor, from Werenowski Solicitors in London is not only an experienced lawyer, a wise and knowledgeable professional, but he does his job with passion and he is a great fighter for justice. We found Mr Werenowski a real gift of God’s providence for us in the hopeless situation of the Cegielka family.
On Friday 8th January 2010 in Southampton County Court, after 8 months of hard work Mr Leszek Werenowski won the case against Mejor Singh and compensation was awarded for illegal eviction.
Mr Leszek Werenowski is our hero now. He deserves the highest accolade.
Little Hubert received compensation.
Mejor Singh learned, in a very painful way, that he is not above the law in his dealing with people.
Two days after the win, Daniel and Magdalena cooked a delicious Polish dinner and took it to Mrs Halina – another victim of injustice, this time from an employer. She is on her own, unwell, forgotten and ignored by the workplace where she suffered an accident. “I know how this lady feels” says Daniel “We are happy that now we can help someone. Maybe a meal doesn’t resolve everything but we just want this lady to know that she is not alone.”
Can we now say that the story of Cegielka family reached a happy end?
Well, not entirely.
Yes, they won their case. They will receive £14000 in compensation. They will buy new furniture, washing machine and computer. However, in that house, among all the lost property was Magdalena’s wedding ring, Daniel’s first certificate of English that he was so proud of, a picture of the Virgin Mary that was a wedding present from their parents and love letters that the young couple had written to each other during their engagement. And one more loss that makes the Cegielkas particularly inconsolable: the print-out of the first ultrasound picture of the little moving dot on the screen that Hubert was then.
There are some damages that cannot be compensated. There are some losses that cannot be recovered.