A bailiff from television’s Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away! who entered a house unlawfully left the occupants feeling “violated” and “like the guilty party”.
A judge has ruled Gary Brown, a star of the Channel Five show, should have made more thorough checks before entering the home in Bracknell in September.
The couple involved did not owe money. Their address had been given to a collection company by the real debtor.
Mr Brown said he was sorry and should have “done more” to check the address.
He was given the address by Direct Collection Bailiffs Limited (DCBL), which has not responded to a request for comment.
Mr Brown walked through the unlocked front door with a junior colleague and refused to leave when asked by Leigh Bozkurt.
Ms Bozkurt filmed Mr Brown, a self-employed high court enforcement officer being contracted by DCBL, searching private drawers and wardrobes.
“I was petrified. I initially thought they were policemen because they mimic the way they dress,” said Ms Bozkurt.
“I could feel my anxiety rising. I was shaking like a leaf and the gentleman said, ‘My name’s Gary Brown but you’ll know me from Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away!”
Ms Bozkurt and her partner Andrew Turner repeatedly complained about the incident but said nobody had taken responsibility until a hearing at Brighton County Court ruled in their favour last week.
Judge Richard Simpkiss said Mr Brown had entered the house unlawfully as there was “practically no evidence the debtor lived there”.
He said that enforcement had gone “too far away from the protection of innocent people”.
Nikki Mitchell, Home Affairs Correspondent BBC South
This ruling will be welcomed by those who believe bailiffs are “above the law”.
Debtors are often among the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.
The number of complaints about bailiffs to debt advice charities has risen substantially since industry reforms in 2014.
According to Citizens Advice, complaints have gone up by 24% and last year they dealt with 41,000 people with what the charity calls “bailiff issues”.
The judge in this case acknowledged bailiffs have a difficult job, and anyone – debtor or not – would find the experience of having them in their home frightening.
He also warned the debt recovery industry as a whole, it must share the burden of responsibility for this, rather than leaving its bailiffs in the ‘firing line’ alone.
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Brown, who remains a certified high court enforcement officer, said: “I offer Ms Bozkurt an apology for the distress this has caused her.
“It certainly wasn’t my intention to upset her or Mr Turner.
“I should have done a bit more to satisfy myself that I was confident the debtor resided at that address.”
Mr Turner said it was a “phenomenal victory” that “will be groundbreaking”.
“This has opened up to protect more innocent victims out there to stop these bailiffs from just walking into a home,” he said.
The government is currently considering a report into the behaviour of bailiffs and will decide if an independent regulator is required.