Lawyer faces £50k bill after neighbour’s gardener cut hedge ‘on her property’
A lawyer faces a £50,000 bill after losing a court fight sparked when her neighbour’s gardener “hacked at” the “lovely thick” laurel hedge that divides their homes in a private road.
Julia Lofthouse said she was “upset” when record label boss Nick Hartley asked his gardener to thin the hedge, which stands on her land, without asking for her permission.
A furious Mrs Lofthouse said the trimming robbed her of privacy at her £1.3million home in Esher, Surrey, and allowed her to clearly see into the tennis court of Mr Hartley’s £2.9m house.
The feud saw them in court over the ownership of a 2ft strip between the hedge and court.
Mrs Lofthouse claimed her neighbour had “unlawfully” cut the hedge and staged a land grab of the narrow piece of ground.
But the music industry executive insisted he owned the 2ft “walkway” between the bottom of his tennis court and the hedge and he was perfectly entitled to trim it when the laurel grew over the boundary.
A judge at Central London County Court has found in favour of Mr Hartley and his wife Sheila, leaving Mrs Lofthouse and husband Mark to pick up the five-figure lawyers’ bills for the court fight.
Judge Mark Raeside QC said the Lofthouses had been “upset” by the hedge cutting, sparking the ownership row, but that the plans were clear and rejected their claim that they own the thin strip between it and the tennis court.
The court heard Mr Hartley, director of independent record label group PIAS and a former chief operating officer of the Official UK Chart Company, and his wife paid £1.9m for the house they moved into in 2007.
Mrs Lofthouse inherited her home, which is in nearby Willowmere but has an adjoining back garden, from her dad Peter Lofthouse and moved into the property in 2011.
According to online property websites, the Hartleys’ home is now worth £2.9m, while the Lofthouses’ substantial bungalow is valued at about £1.3m.
Mr Hartley, 61, told the court that he had had a good relationship with Peter Lofthouse and agreed to regularly trim the hedge from his side, as well as maintaining the top.
However, he said the strip of land on his side of the hedge, separating it from the fence of his tennis court, was within the title of his property.
He said he had always been able to walk around the bottom of the tennis court to maintain the hedge, and in 2017 enlisted a professional gardener to cut it back.
Afterwards he noticed a barrier had been put up, preventing access to the strip, and leading to his court battle to assert ownership over the narrow piece of land.
He told the judge in evidence: “The case has been brought because the barrier has been erected to prevent access to what I believe is my land, which is where we would trim the hedge.”
He said there had always been a “clear gap” between the wire fence of his tennis court and the hedge and that he had trimmed it from his side since moving in.
“I carried out maintenance to this walkway until 2017, then your clients erected a barrier which has prevented any access for our continued maintenance of that,” he told the Lofthouses’ barrister Paul Wilmshurst.
“The area has been maintained from day one when I moved into the property.”
Mrs Lofthouse, 61, insisted that the legal boundary between their gardens is the line of Mr Hartley’s tennis court fence and so he has no right to walk around it to cut the hedge.
She said the “big and dense, lovely and thick” laurel hedge had been there for as long as she could remember and was “an important feature” in her garden, which was why she was so upset to see it “hacked at” in 2017.
“It was an important feature and it seemed to me they had gone ahead and cut our hedge without asking,” she told the judge.
She claimed before the cutting, there was no “walkway” around the court and the Hartleys had “taken advantage and purloined a piece of land”.
The Hartleys’ barrister Thomas Talbot-Ponsonby pointed out that Mrs Lofthouse had suggested Mr Hartley take her to court during a row over the strip back in 2018.
The Hartleys had also suggested that an independent surveyor could determine the true boundary without needing to go to court, but the Lofthouses refused, said Mr Talbot-Ponsonby.
Giving judgment, Judge Raeside accepted that the hedge must have been maintained from the Hartleys’ side for years even before they moved in.
He said experts who had looked at historical plans of the properties agreed that the boundary was not the line of the tennis court, but a line outside the court, as the Hartleys claimed.
“I reject the assertion that the wire fence of the tennis court is in fact the boundary with Willowmere,” he ruled, meaning the walkway along the bottom of the court belongs to the Hartleys.
The judge ordered that surveyors attend the properties and lay out markers to show the true boundary line and the Lofthouses would have to pay the Hartleys’ £46,000 lawyers’ bills of the case, on top of their own.