�50k court bill after land dispute row

A RICKETY old fence beside a cemetery in a picturesque Suffolk village and a businessman's hopes of building his dream home all added up to a venomous legal war described as "very sad" by a judge.

A RICKETY old fence beside a cemetery in a picturesque Suffolk village and a businessman's hopes of building his dream home all added up to a venomous legal war described as "very sad" by a judge.

The dispute between surveyor, Ian Keath, and East Bergholt Parish Council at one point became so acrimonious that police were involved, arresting him for chopping down an ash and a cherry tree and holding him in an Ipswich police station cell under threat of prosecution for criminal damage.

And, although police decided to take no further action over the 2006 incident, the row over property rights between Mr Keath and the Parish Council has continued unabated ever since.

The dispute broke out after Mr Keath, of Upper Fourth Avenue, Frinton, bought a property called "Tree Tops", adjoining the village cemetery, in 1999. Despite the Parish Council's objections, he won planning permission to build himself a new home there.


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But Mr Keath's plans were thrown into jeopardy when the Parish Council objected that a "higgledy-piggledy" old fence, marking out Tree Tops' garden, was in the wrong place and "encroached" onto the cemetery, in one place by as much as two metres.

Mr Keath insisted the fence had had "kinks" in it when he bought Tree Tops and had been in the same place since at least 1991. He claimed "adverse possession" - commonly known as "squatters rights" - over the land which the Parish Council said was part of the cemetery.

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However, the Parish Council was adamant that the boundary was a straight line and went to court in a bid to force Mr Keath to move the fence to what it insisted was the true boundary.

After a bitterly fought hearing at Ipswich County Court in April this year, Judge Thomspon described it as "a very sad case" before coming down in favour of the Parish Council.

The judge specifically cleared Mr Keath of any suggestion that he deliberately moved the fence or had any improper intention to extend his boundary.

But he nevertheless ruled that, in his attempts to patch up the dilapidated wood work, the formerly straight fence had become "curved" in places, encroaching onto the cemetery.

At London's Appeal Court, Mr Keath mounted a last ditch attempt to overturn that ruling this week, his lawyers arguing that Judge Thompson had misinterpreted the evidence and reached the wrong conclusion.

Attacking Judge Thompson's decision as "perverse", Mr Keath's legal team told the court there was no question of the fence encroaching onto consecrated ground and that Mr Keath had "inherited" the curved boundary line when he bought Tree Tops.

However, refusing Mr Keath permission to appeal, Lord Justice Rimer said Judge Thompson had heard "a mass of evidence" - including from a gardener and the nephew of Tree Tops' previous owner - and there was "nothing irrational or perverse" about his conclusions.

The ruling means that Mr Keath will now have to move the "bendy fence" so that it is in a straight line and no longer encroaches onto the cemetery. He also faces legal costs bills estimated at around �50,000.

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