Published: 09:57, 13 May 2019
| Updated: 19:49, 13 May 2019
A grandfather described as a hero for helping to save his neighbours from a fire is now living in a tent outside his home of nearly two decades after being kicked out by bailiffs.
Paul Wallis was a close friend of tragic Judith Tucker, who died in the blaze at Walshaw House in Maidstone on December 19 last year.
While he was unable to battle the flames from her apartment, he and other neighbours managed to reach those living in the flats above and help get them to safety.
Fire hero faces prison over missed rent payments
Just hours after his heroics, however, the 52-year-old was in court over rent arrears which he claims all stemmed from a mountain bike accident he suffered back in 2013.
"I used to work with cancer patients at Maidstone Hospital," he said.
"It was a good job, I was an assistant to the radiologist and the patients used to ask me to put the cannulas in their arms because I was so good at it."
However, one afternoon, his life changed when he took the bike into the woods and crashed, falling into a five-foot ditch.
Paul lost all feeling in his right arm after suffering a crushed spinal cord, on top of his already severe health problems with asthma, eczema and high blood pressure.
He spiralled into depression, lost his job at the hospital and had to apply for benefits to try and keep up with rent payments at his two-bed home in Telford House, which sits adjacent to Walshaw House.
This became much more difficult following the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax, which meant his housing benefit was reduced on account of having more bedrooms than necessary.
Eventually he took on a lodger but had to ask him to leave after a year when he stopped paying rent, leaving Paul facing increasingly tough debts to manage.
The matter came to a head this week when bailiffs turned up at the house and told him he had to leave on account of owing some £3,221.41 in unpaid rent.
"Two members of staff from Golding Homes told me after the fire that I was a hero and that I wouldn't have to worry about being evicted," he said.
"I was brought up in a world where if you did something a little bit heroic, you should be rewarded for something like that, not punished.
"I feel like I've been lied to and let down."
Golding Homes, which owns the property, said it could not comment on his actions during the fire and that while staff offered support, his inability to pay the rent owed resulted in his eviction.
In response, Paul, who lost a five-month-old grandson in a tragic cot death last year, is now living in a tent in the front garden of the property, with only his dog Calicorr - a rare cross between a rhodesian ridgeback and a Staffordshire bull terrier - for company.
He has set up a small bonfire to help keep himself warm during the day and has been receiving food and drink from his neighbours, who have described him as "a pillar of the community".
Michael Percy, who also helped get people out during the blaze in December, said: "Everyone looks out for each other around here, and it's out of order the way he's been treated."
Close friend Peter Hewitt added: "Paul shouldn't be out here like he is, he's a good, kind man who'd do anything to help anyone - people were calling him and Mike heroes on the night of the fire."
Paul said he had been told in recent days that he could live in a bedsit elsewhere in the town, but would not be able to take Cali with him.
"I've lived here for 17 years, and that's why I'm in the garden," he said.
"It would break my heart to leave - I don't feel safe anywhere else.
"I've got a lot history in this house and I've got my old cats and rabbits buried in the front garden.
How KMTV reported the fatal fire in December
"I wouldn't give Cali up for the world. I tell people I'll sleep rough with her than be warm and comfortable without her."
A spokeswoman for Golding Homes said: "Mr Wallis was evicted for high and persistent rent arrears.
"Our team were in contact with the resident to support him with his rent arrears but, in accordance with the tenancy agreement, we have sought eviction due to unpaid rent.
"We are unable to make comment on Mr Wallis’ actions during the fire."