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School to pay $10k to man living in van

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 24/08/2012
Friedrich
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
HURT FEELINGS: Friedrich "Fritz" Fehling has been awarded $10,000 after a three-year battle with South Westland Area School.

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An "intensely intellectual" man who lived in a camouflaged van on school grounds has been awarded $10,000 in damages after he was moved on by police.

Friedrich Fehling was staying in his van parked on South Westland Area School's grounds when he was given a trespass order in January 2009.

After a three-year battle with the Hari Hari school, Fehling was last month awarded $10,000 in damages by the Human Rights Review Tribunal for hurt feelings and loss of dignity.

The school said people felt intimidated by Fehling's presence near the school, but the tribunal found there was no evidence of a threat.

Fehling's van was parked by the school swimming pool on land leased by the school to one of its employees and Fehling's friend, senior teacher Jim Costello.

Fehling had permission to keep his van on the land.

The tribunal found that Fehling's feelings and dignity were hurt by the trespass notice.

"The stigma of being banned from the school premises for two years reinforced the hostility and suspicion with which he was being regarded by some in that community," it said.

"The unsavoury connotation that users of the pool, particularly young children using the showers and toilets, were unsafe because of his presence has been particularly humiliating and injurious to Fehling's feelings and there has been a loss of dignity."

The tribunal said Fehling was regarded as an "outsider" by some in Hari Hari as he was "at times intensely intellectual" and was born in Germany.

It said Fehling had lived in a van since about 2005. "The van is painted in camouflage so that it blends more easily with the environment, consistent with Fehling's beliefs as an environmentalist."

The tribunal also found that Fehling's privacy was interfered with when the school refused to fulfil his Official Information Act request asking who made the complaint against him that led to the trespass order.

School board of trustees chairman Doug Appleby said the tribunal decision "stinks".

The school would have to pay the $10,000 in damages and had run up a $6000 legal bill defending the case.

"It has been a long drawn-out process. It is a nuisance, but what can you do? He can come to us for the money. We are not chasing him," Appleby said.

The Press was unable to contact Fehling. Costello said Fehling was difficult to contact as "he is a bit of a free spirit".

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- The Press

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