In a cautionary tale for homeowners, an immensely costly boundary dispute between neighbours – which centred on, amongst other things, the position of an old apple tree – is set to continue towards a potentially ruinous conclusion after the Court of Appeal pinpointed flaws in the original hearing of the case.
A couple who owned a modest home (couple A) were at loggerheads with the owners of an adjoining 800-acre estate (couple B) in respect of three plots of land. Couple A argued that they formed part of their garden whereas couple B were equally adamant that they lay within the boundary of the estate.
The row led to a three-day county court hearing at which rival expert valuation witnesses gave evidence and the judge paid a site visit. Issues in dispute included whether one boundary line was marked by an apple tree and whether another ran along the top, or the bottom, of an earth bank.
The county court judge condemned couple A to a stinging reduction in the size of their garden when he ruled in favour of couple B in respect of all three disputed plots. However, in allowing couple A’s appeal in part, the Court found that the judge’s approach to the expert evidence had been flawed in that he had denied couple A the opportunity to cross-examine couple B’s expert witness.
Whilst confirming couple B’s ownership of one piece of land, on the basis that the apple tree did not mark the true boundary, the Court ruled that there would have to be a re-hearing in respect of the other two plots and remitted the dispute to the county court for fresh determination of the remaining issues.