A teacher handed a 39-page £50,000 lawyers’ bill after a “trivial” row with her elderly neighbours over 15 inches of soil faces losing her home – and blames the late romantic novelist Barbara Cartland for her plight.
Carole Ann Green thought she had found her dream home when she moved on to an exclusive development in the Worcestershire spa town of Malvern, next to the 18th century listed manor, Littlewood House, where Barbara Cartland grew up.
But when she built a modern holiday apartment in her garden, Mrs Green enraged “elderly established residents” Doreen and Victor Elliott “who did not hit it off with the younger, more recent ones” like herself.
The traditionalist pensioners “fell out” with the teacher, raising objections about the width of the access route to her holiday rental.
Mrs Green said their disgruntlement was based on the proximity of her utilitarian new build to the romantic author’s historic and prestigious former home.
She ultimately lost the fight with her neighbours after Judge Daniel Pearce-Higgins at Worcester County Court found a fence she had erected alongside the access lane “trespassed” by just over a foot on to her neighbours’ land.
Now, after a five-year court battle, which the judge said was “largely unnecessary” and “could have been resolved years ago by a modicum of common sense”, she has been told to pay a £50,000 lawyers’ bill by the Appeal Court.
She said the costs of the “trivial silliness” over the fence will “kill” her and she could now lose her home.
The court heard that Mrs Green, 58, a teacher for special needs pupils, moved into her home, in a development of secluded detached houses surrounded by ample gardens and set back from Britten Drive, Malvern, in 2006.
Mrs Elliott, on the other hand, had at that time already been in her home for more than 25 years, having moved in 1978 when the houses were built. She and her husband, who are in their eighties, along with other “elderly established residents” of the development, did not like the new, younger generation who had started moving in, including Mrs Green, Judge Pearce-
It was after the teacher obtained planning permission to build a holiday let on part of the land surrounding her house, which she advertises online for extra retirement income, that the neighbours officially “fell out” and the previous ill-feeling flared into all-out war in court.
Mrs Green rowed with Mr and Mrs Elliott over the width of the driveway visitors would use to get to her holiday rental and which also provides access to her own home.
The pensioners set out a row of wooden batons in the ground, which they said marked the border between their land and Mrs Green’s drive.
But the teacher insisted they had put them in the wrong place and “immediately caused to be erected a substantial concrete and wooden fence” along the line she argued was correct.
In December 2012, Judge Pearce-Higgins found her fence “encroached” on to Mr and Mrs Elliott’s land by 15 inches.
But he declined the “very elderly” couple’s request for an order that the fence be pulled down, and instead awarded them damages of £2,866.
He commented: “This is an unhappy case. Like most boundary disputes, it has attracted a lot of emotion, it is largely unnecessary and it could have been resolved years ago by a modicum of common sense and a small amount of goodwill.”
Mrs Green has ever since been fighting the massive legal costs bill she was handed after the case, and asked Lord Justice Jackson at London’s Appeal Court to help her.
“A £50,000 costs bill for a compensation claim of £2,000 is not proportionate and it’s not reasonable. It’s blatant theft and profiteering,” she told him.
“The intention of the claim was to get rid of my fencing.
“Trivial silliness. It failed - it was a partially won claim and the bill was 39 pages long,” the teacher added.
Lord Justice Jackson however, whilst offering her sympathy, refused her permission to appeal against the costs order, saying she had left her challenge too late.
“I understand her grievance about the bill of costs. She says that there are so many items that it amounts to fraud or, as she puts it, theft.
“But she did not comply with the rules and lodge complaints within the proper time. I feel sympathy for her difficulties, but the courts have to observe the rules.
“At this late stage, there is nothing I can do about it. She has lost her chance to dispute her neighbours’ bill of costs.
“I’m sorry to say that none of her arguments would enable Mrs Green to appeal successfully, and these applications are refused,” the judge concluded.
Outside court, Mrs Green said that her neighbours have been granted a charging order over her home – effectively a mortgage – to cover their legal bill. That, she added, could force her to sell her home.
“This lawyers’ bill is going to kill me. It’s wiped out 40 years of full-time work. I’ll be 60 next year and I’ve got no savings.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t want to have to rely on the state. I never have. It just beggars belief,” she said.
She added that she blamed the proximity of the late Mrs Cartland’s home for her troubles.
“As soon as I got planning permission for my holiday let it all kicked off,” she added.
“Just because I got that planning permission in 2008, I’ve had all this because of people worried about development at the bottom of their garden.
“There’s all this land next to my house which is landlocked which was part of Barbara Cartland’s home.
“I think they were worried that the planning permission and the access to my holiday rental would somehow open the way for development on that land,” she added.
Saying that she now despairs for her future, the teacher concluded: “What’s the point in working all your life and having a private pension for a buffer?
“My little holiday rental is my buffer. Now there’s a charging order on my home.”