THE inquiry over the Brierley fruit pickers' camp near Leominster took a dramatic turn in its closing stages when Herefordshire Council was accused of mounting a vendetta.

Strawberry king John Davies, who the council last month sought to have imprisoned, sat in shorts and t-shirt between suited lawyers as his barrister launched an attack.

Harry Wolton QC sought a full award of costs against the council for causing his client "unnecessary expense" with the appeal.

The council was "unreasonable" when it refused retrospective planning permission in May 2004. Councillors went against the advice of their officers who urged approval.

"There is a vendetta against the appellants," said Mr Wolton, seeking Government approval for the Brierley Court Farm caravan site for 1,800 seasonal workers.

He referred to the opening remarks of council barrister Timothy Jones.

Mr Jones had compared S & A's attitude to American millionaire Ivana Trump and her remark: "The law is for little people"

S & A repeatedly showed disdain for planning law and tried to "drive a coach and horses through the system", Mr Jones alleged.

Mr Wolton hit back, telling planning inspector Bridget Campbell: "I ask you to consider whether the council has presented a balanced case or whether they are pursuing a vendetta. Their case is based on prejudice."

Farming was one of Herefordshire's main economic activities but it was in the doldrums. S &A was finding a successful way ahead that created employment and boosted the local economy.

The council claimed there was no need for an amenity building and other facilities at Brierley because hop-pickers and their families had coped without facilities at the farm in the past.

Mr Wolton dismissed the view, saying people now had a right to welfare and recreation.

"Does the council have a policy that East European students are lesser mortals than the wider population?" he asked.

"What about toilet blocks? I do not suppose that the hop pickers of old had those either."

In reply, Mr Jones said the allegation of a council vendetta against S & A was "wholly and utterly untrue".

The council was upholding Mr Davies' right to grow strawberries in polytunnels on land for a two-year period. It was actively resisting a move by a residents' group for a judicial review of the county's polytunnel Code of Practice.

"This is hardly the action of a body carrying out a vendetta," said Mr Jones.

During the inquiry the inspector asked for a statement of clarification on the Code of Practice. She was uncertain how the code worked, she said.