Footballer Lee Barnard and Playboy model told tenants: get out in 14 days or we cut power

Lee Barnard, 28, a Southampton forward, and Tonya French, 26, who were due to get married today, bought a 14-bedroom town house in Chelmsford, Essex, in which 11 tenants were living.

The couple, who wanted the house emptied, sent letters to the tenants telling them to find a new home and warning them that the gas, water and electricity would be switched off after 14 days, even if they were still living there.

Those renting the house, who by law should have been given two months’ notice, were left fearing that they would be made homeless.

Barnard, a former Tottenham Hotspur player, even offered a £100 “incentive” to the tenants, some of whom were on housing and disability benefits, to move out quickly. Sandra Keeble, who has lived in the detached house, which has been separated into flats, for five years, said: “We are being completely bullied. I think it is abhorrent and horrible.

“We were told to get out with our belongings, but there was no chance of us finding the money [to live elsewhere] within two weeks.

“Nobody has a way to contact the new owner — we tried the number at the bottom of the letters but it goes straight to voicemail and no one replies to the emails we have sent.”

Ray Ellis, 52, a resident who receives disability benefits, said: “I have asked for more time to find somewhere else to go — we are not finding it easy to find an alternative.”

Three of the residents have moved out since the demands were made last month.

Barnard claims that there had been a mix-up and the letters had been sent with the wrong leaving date. He said: “It’s just a misunderstanding with the handover from the previous owner who said we only had to give them notice of a day.

“The council are fully aware of the situation and are happy with the arrangements — the first letters were just sent out with the wrong date.”

He said that the tenants had been given a rent-free period and a £100 incentive which he felt was a “good offer”.

Officials from Chelmsford city council have stepped into the dispute and told the tenants they are legally entitled to stay.

Chess, a charity which helps homeless people in Chelmsford, has helped the residents look for new accommodation. Rob Saggs, the charity’s operations manager, said: “I’m pleased that the council have intervened and worked in partnership with tenants for the best result.

“The last thing we want to see is people we have worked with over the last few months and years, who have successfully found private rented accommodation and turned their lives around, to be on the streets again. Imagine how they would feel.”

A Chelmsford city council spokesman said: “I confirm tenants did contact us and they were advised they have been served an illegal notice and that they don’t have to leave by June 1.

“We informed them of their rights and offered our help and support in finding new housing when the tenancy ends. The new owner has been advised of their legal obligations and the new owners have been completely compliant and are now following the correct legal process.”