An elderly couple who tried to take over part of their neighbours’ land when they thought they were away on holiday have been landed with a huge legal bill.
Ernest and Elizabeth Zarb tried to extend their garden by knocking down their neighbours’ fence and erecting a new one.
Neighbours James and Theresa Parry said they were intimidated by the Zarbs’ ‘bully boy tactics’, which saw Mr Zarb cut down the couple’s beloved elderflower tree.
While judges agreed that the Zarbs theoretically owned the strip of garden in dispute, they said that the Parrys had gained squatters’ rights over the land, which they had occupied ever since they moved in to their house in Worcestershire.
The Zarbs – who are, like the Parrys, in their 60s – are now faced with a bill of up to £100,000 after being ordered to pay the costs of the four-year legal dispute, which one judge described as a ‘cautionary story’ for home-buyers.
The judge also suggested that the ‘driving force’ behind the legal case may have become a desire to avoid paying costs, rather than the land issue which sparked off the dispute.
Mrs Parry told the court she was ‘absolutely amazed’ to find her neighbours the Zarbs in her garden one morning in July 2007 bashing fence posts into her lawn.
Her fence had also been uprooted, and the elderflower tree she used to make cordial had been felled with a chainsaw.
Mrs Parry said her neighbours probably thought she and her husband James were away on holiday in their camper van and were ‘very surprised at being caught’.
Mr Zarb ‘looked incandescent with fury’ after they demanded he leave their land.
A ‘nose to nose’ face-off ensued as Mrs Parry told Mr Zarb ‘do not try your bully boy tactics with me’ and, as his wife used a tape to measure out a new boundary, Mr Zarb said he was ‘taking it by force as it belonged to him’.
After a 20-minute confrontation, Mrs Parry said it was only when she threatened to call the police that her neighbours backed down.
The strip of land, measuring 890 square feet, between the couples’ homes outside the village of Welland, near Malvern, was the subject of a long-running but ‘dormant’ dispute, dating back to the early 1990s.
The previous owner of the Zarbs’ house, Daisymore, had sold some of his garden to the predecessors of the Parrys in their home, Fleet House.
He later put up a fence to stop his cows wandering in to the neighbours’ garden, but ended up leaving some of his land on their side of the divide.
After the Parrys arrived in 2002, they treated the land as their own despite not having legal title to it.
And although the Zarbs moved in to Daisymore in 2005, it was not until the 2007 incident that they claimed ownership of the land.
At Worcester County Court last year a judge ruled that, although the Zarbs had ‘paper title’ to the disputed strip, the Parrys had obtained adverse possession – ‘squatters’ rights’ – over it as they, and previous owners of Fleet House, had been in possession of it for more than 10 years without being challenged.
But the Zarbs challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal, where Lady Justice Arden, sitting with two other top judges, today dismissed their case.
She said that because the Parrys were able to stop the Zarbs from taking over the land in July 2007, the latter couple had failed to show that they were in possession of the disputed strip.
The judge added: ‘These proceedings have been costly and there is a cautionary story here for purchasers of land.’
Lamenting that such disputes are all too common, she added: ‘Purchasers are not necessarily protected merely because the seller gives an assurance that the dispute with a neighbour has seemingly gone away.
‘Boundary disputes have a habit of reappearing until finally resolved’.
The Zarbs were ordered to pay the legal costs run up by their neighbours in defending the appeal.
Source / Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2062210/Neighbours-war-left-foot-100k-foiled-attempt-land-grab.html