Hiding a needle in a haystack is easy enough. But Robert Fidler kept something much bigger concealed among the piles of straw down on his farm... a castle.
Over the course of two years, he managed to secretly – and unlawfully – build the imposing mock Tudor structure in one of his fields, shielded behind a 40ft stack of hay bales covered by a huge tarpaulins. Once it was finished, he and his family moved in and lived there for four years before finally revealing the development – complete with battlements and cannons – in August 2006.
Mr Fidler claims that because the building has been there for four years with no objections, it is no longer illegal. But he is under siege from council planners, who say the castle at Honeycrock Farm, Salfords, Redhill, Surrey, will have to be knocked down.
"I can't believe they want to demolish this beautiful house," said 59-year-old Mr Fidler. "To me they are no different than vandals who just want to smash it down."
Mr Fidler, a farmer, erected the disguise in 2000 out of hundreds of 8ftx4ft bales of straw and covered the top with blue tarpaulin.
But neighbours were unimpressed. One said: "Nobody thought anything of it when the hay went up. It was presumed he was building a barn or something similar. It was a complete shock when the hay came down and this castle was in its place. Everyone else has to abide by planning laws, so why shouldn't they?"
Problems began last April when Mr Fidler, thinking he had beaten the planning system, applied for a certificate of lawfulness which is given if a property is erected but nobody objects to it after four years.
But Reigate and Banstead Council says the four-year period after which the building would be allowed to stay is void – because nobody had been given a chance to see it.
The matter will now be decided in February by the council's planning inspector, who could give the Fidlers as little as six months to tear the castle down.