Formby neighbours' in a Legal Battle
Neighbours at legal war over little more than whether gates to their driveway should be kept open, or shut, have heard a High Court judge lament their failure to compromise.
Martin and Rosemary Bradley, both doctors, have for years been at daggers drawn with neighbours, Peter and Marianne Heslin, in Freshfield Road, Formby, Merseyside.
They might have resolved their differences by putting in remote-controlled electric gates at the entrance to their mutual driveway at a cost of around £5,000.
And Mr Justice Norris said he was “rather surprised” that they had instead battled it out in court, running up legal costs bills which could well reach six figures.
He gravely observed that, whatever the outcome of the dispute, blighted neighbourly relations meant that ‘even the victor is not the winner’.
The battle lines were drawn over a four-foot-wide pair of gates standing on the Tarmac driveway of No.40 and No.40A Freshfield Road.
The Bradleys, who have lived in the Edwardian villa at No.40 since 1986, wanted to keep the gate shut at all times to better secure their home.
But that was a “serious inconvenience” and “an obstruction” to the Heslins, who moved into the bungalow at No 40A in 2006.
They complained that, come rain or shine, they had to stop their car and open the gate every time they wanted to enter or leave their home.
The judge said legal warfare commenced in August 2012 when Mr Heslin “simply padlocked the northern gate open and refused to allow the Bradleys to shut it”.
Mr Justice Norris said he had himself visited the site and paced out measurements on the disputed driveway.
He ruled that Mr and Mrs Bradley owned both the gate and the posts to which they are attached.
But that did not mean that they had the right to keep it shut whenever they wanted to.
Urging the neighbours to sit round a table together, the judge said it was not for the court to “write a rule book” on when the gate should be opened and shut.
But he added that, in his view, it would be acceptable if the gates were kept closed between 11pm and 7.30 pm on most nights.
Commenting on the ruinous dispute, the judge said: “Rather to my surprise, I find myself trying a case about a pair of gates in Formby.
“Surprise on at least two counts: First, that anyone should pursue a neighbour dispute to trial, where even the victor is not a winner, given the blight which a contested case casts over the future of neighbourly relations.
“Second, that the case should have been pursued in the High Court over three days”.
He added: “Sensible neighbours would have sat round a table and worked out either a regime for closing the gates at agreed hours or the installation of remotely operated electric gates, which might have cost £5,000”.
Speaking of rows between neighbours in general, the judge bemoaned the fact that judges cannot force “truly unwilling” neighbours to compromise.
“This entrenchment of positions is a regrettable characteristic of neighbour disputes... the law expects neighbours to behave reasonably towards one another.
“The court cannot write a rule book for what may or may not be done in every eventuality”.
Reaching what might be viewed as a “judgment of Solomon”, Mr Justice Norris ruled that, although the Bradleys are entitled to close their gates, they must not do so at times which “substantially interfere” with the Heslins’ enjoyment of their home.