15/03/2012 15:31 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Family's Secret House In Surrey Woods Angers Neighbours

Family's secret house in Surrey woods angers neighbours Kerry Davies The little house in the woods

A couple and their three children have been living in a secret woodland hideaway in the Surrey countryside.

Daniel and Jessica Brown and their children have lived in the house hidden behind trees on greenbelt land near Westcott, Surrey, for four years.

The authorities - and many locals - had no idea they were there, and their local council have now conceded they are powerless to act because of the length of time the family have been in residence.

Mole Valley District Council told Parentdish this morning that a 'certificate of lawfulness' had been issued to the Browns, and that they could continue living in the house they had built on the site.

It is reported that Mr Brown has owned and looked after animals on the land known as Three Cornered Copse for 18 years.

Work on the house is said to have started around six years ago, with friends and relatives helping with building and installing plumbing and electricity. The family never sought planning permission for the property, which was completed in August 2007.

The land is within the green belt and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is protected by strict development restrictions, and the council spokesperson confirmed to us that the Browns did not own it.

Local councilors and some of the family's neighbours are said to be furious that no action will be taken against the Browns - who have not registered for council tax, or signed up for the electoral roll. Ten neighbours have registered their outrage with the local council.

The Browns submitted evidence to the council prove the length of their residency in the house, providing bank and insurance documents and letter from their youngsters' schools which showed they had lived in the hideaway since 2007.

Neighbours Richard and Carolyn Smith wrote to the council saying: "We would like to erect a house in one of our top fields. Can I now assume we will be able to do that and sell our present property without gaining permission from the council? Obviously it is a planning 'free for all' in Logmore Lane."

Whilst another angry neighbour, Jennifer Cordeux complained: "Every neighbour I have spoken to was under the impression Mr Brown and his family lived in Abinger. I was completely unaware he had taken up residence on his land. 'I ride, walk and drive past his land several times a week and it was never apparent he had erected a dwelling in the copse. There has never been any evidence of the family actually living there. You cannot just buy a field and build a house on it."

Another neighbour, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the Browns have put locals in a 'difficult situation' and felt "somewhat let down - We were not expecting to be made mugs of, that's what it feels like."

Supporters of the couple however said they were a 'nice family' who contributed to the community and charities. Diana and Barry Hitchcock wrote: "They are country people, living a simple and hard-working country life. We need to keep people like Daniel and Jessica in our midst,' whilst another local said Mr Brown was 'an appropriate link for Mole Valley with its rural character, agricultural heritage and tradition of horse husbandry."

Mr Brown and his wife, who is a teaching assistant, said in a statement: "We understand the objectors' point of view, but are cheered by the fact there were more that supported us.

"We are grateful to the council for enabling us to go on living and working in the community we love and caring for the piece of land that means so much to us."

You can see the Brown's planning application here.

What do you think? Should they be allowed to stay put or is it outrageous that they can hide out on greenbelt land for so long?