BATTLING cobbler Tony Martin, who has waged a one-man campaign against alleged council mis-management, is refusing to pay more than £1,600 in business rates to Durham City Council because he claims it will be stolen.

Mr Martin began his campaign when yellow lines were painted outside the family business in Claypath - not by the city, but by the county council.

Mr Martin, 37, of North Shields, who claims the parking restrictions halved his trade, was summonsed by the city council over rate arrears dating to July 1999.

Yesterday, he told the city's magistrates: "I refuse to pay my council tax (sic) to the council because of certain thefts which are going on inside it, which I can prove 100 per cent.''

When the bench told him to take his allegations to police, he said: "I have never handed the information to Durham City police because I question their honesty."

Mr Martin claimed one police officer was under internal investigation and that police would shortly make arrests at the council.

"I have suffered threats. I have had windows put in at my home. I believe my address was acquired from a council department.

"Thugs are being paid by the council to frighten me."

He also alleged that the council had more than doubled his shop's rateable value in a "blatant attempt to remove me from Durham".

Afterwards, a spokeswoman for the council, which is seeking a liability order, rejected all Mr Martin's allegations.

She said: "The rateable value is not determined by the city council, it is determined by the valuation department of the Inland Revenue.

"The city council doesn't retain the money from non-domestic rates. It goes to central government."

A Durham Police spokesman said there was no inquiry involving the council, and that no police officer was under investigation.

Mr Martin told the court his rateable value rose just weeks after a tribunal ruled it should stay the same.

"I haven't paid any rent for two years and I now owe in the region of £14,000 rent. I haven't had a wage for some time and I'm in thousands of pounds of debt."

The business was in his father Anthony's name, but was being transferred to him, he said.

The magistrates adjourned the hearing until April 19