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Dad jailed and handed £475k bill in bitter row with neighbours over garden fence

The fence at the centre of the blistering row (Image: Champion)

A dad-of-five was jailed, handed a £475,000 court bill and has now been stripped of his family home after one of Britain’s most disastrous neighbours’ disputes – sparked by the position of a garden fence. Mark Coates, 56, and wife Louise, 52, have fought a long battle with their neighbours Brian Greenwood, 69, and Janice Turner, 65, after moving in next door in the countryside near Hastings in 2015.

The row arose out of a disagreement over the position of a fence and ownership of a track beside their homes, but spilled into a “bitter” neighbours’ dispute, a court heard.

Each claimed the other had set up “surveillance cameras” to monitor the others, while Mr Coates, who is a full-time carer for his disabled son, was accused of swearing at his neighbours and throwing stones at their bedroom window.

The two couples had been warned when they first reached court in 2020 that the dispute could end in financial ruin for one of them and now, four years later, having lost the case, Mr Coates and his learning assistant wife face just that.

With Mr Coates having already spent nearly seven weeks in jail over the row and with the couple having been handed court bills totalling around £475,000, they have now been told they have to sell their family home.

READ MORE: Dad’s £20k bill after going into neighbour’s garden to get son’s ball back

High Court judge, Master James Brightwell, said a forced sale of the property – thought to be worth about £420,000 – was the only way that the debt would be paid.

But Mr Coates told the judge that he doubted whether the house would sell for that amount, adding: “I don’t know who would want to live next to them anyway.”

The two sets of neighbours live side by side in semi-detached houses in Eatenden Lane, a quiet road next to woodland in Robertsbridge, near Hastings, in the East Sussex countryside.

But the rural peace was shattered when they began rowing over the boundary between their gardens and between the Coates’ garden and an access track bought by their neighbours behind it.

Mrs Turner objected to the taking down of a fence and erection of a brick wall, which she claimed encroached on her property. But what was a row over a small strip of land descended into chaos, with allegations made on both sides of various forms of unneighbourly behaviour.

In October 2020, during an early hearing in the dispute, the couples were warned by High Court judge, Mr Justice Morgan, that persisting in the row could result in financial ruin for one or both sets of neighbours.

Describing it as a “very bitter, aggressive violent dispute,” he said: “Boundary disputes are unfortunate because they spring from bad feeling between neighbours.

Mark Coates Lisa Coates

Mark and Louise Coates are now being forced to sell their home (Image: Champion)

Janice Turner

Janice Turner, 65, won the case against the couple (Image: Champion)

“Worse still, these proceedings are not cheap if lawyers are involved. It is not unknown for cases of this kind to result in the bankruptcy of one or both sides. That is why boundary dispute litigation is often said to be very very unfortunate.”

But despite the warning, the case continued and ended up before Judge Sarah Venn at Hastings County Court, who in September 2022 found against Mr and Mrs Coates on the row over the position of the boundary. The matter did not even end there, with Mr Coates hauled back to court in October 2023 and accused of “juvenile behaviour” by his neighbours, in breach of the terms of an injunction made by Judge Venn to try to defuse the row.

He had damaged his neighbours’ property by throwing stones at a bedroom window and used abusive language, swearing at them, Judge Venn ultimately found. The judge was shown video which she said showed Mr Coates approaching Mrs Turner, “visibly angry” and making “abusive comments and engaged in physically threatening behaviour.”

She also found that comments made by Mr Coates in court amounted to a “threat” to his neighbours or their property. He was jailed for 252 days for contempt of court, reduced after 47 days behind bars to allow his immediate release at the Court of Appeal in December last year.

The sentence was reduced after the appeal judges overturned the finding by Judge Venn that Mr Coates’ in-court comments were a threat.

But with interest, the couple were still left facing compensation and legal bills totalling about £475,000 for the disastrous fence dispute.

Earlier this month the case went back to court, as Mr Greenwood and Mrs Turner applied for an order for sale of the Coates’ house so that the bills can be paid. Mr and Mrs Coates, representing themselves, fought the application, arguing that they still have cases running in other courts which might see the boundary row continue.

Brian Greenwood

Brian Greenwood has been in a long-standing dispute with his neighbours (Image: Champion News)

They complained that the case was unfair, with them having to fight it alone without legal assistance in face of their neighbours’ expensive team of lawyers.

“We are not going to stop fighting this matter, even if it’s eight or 10 years down the line,” Mr Coates told the judge, Master Brightwell. “We haven’t got money. We are representing ourselves because we haven’t got any money. The only asset we have is the property. It’s our house for our disabled son and ourselves.”

Describing their plight as an “absolute scandal,” Mrs Coates insisted that – despite the rulings against them – the case was “not one-sided”.

“The impact on my children and my life has been horrendous,” she said. “We have been discriminated against because of our financial status and lack of legal support.”

But, for their neighbours, barrister Clare Anslow said Mr and Mrs Coates clearly did not accept that the sums were rightly owing.

“Realistically, the defendants, even if they did have other means to pay, are not going to voluntarily make these payments or try to come to any agreement,” she said. “The defendants are the authors of their own misfortune. Had they taken more appropriate actions and not acted in the way they had, this entire position may not have arisen.”

Ruling that the house – thought by Mr Greenwood and Mrs Turner to be worth about £420,000 – should be sold, the judge said there was “no reasonable prospect” of the debt being repaid otherwise.

“I suspect the mental and physical health of all the parties to this litigation has been adversely affected by its protracted nature and the course it has taken,” he said. Speaking afterwards, Mr Coates talked of the devastating impact of the dispute on his family.

“I went to prison for seven weeks and I’d never been to prison before,” he said. “If I said I went to prison over a boundary dispute, nobody would believe me.

“Everyone has been really affected. I’m going to be homeless. My son is going to be homeless. We’ve got to rehouse a dog. I’ve just had grief after grief. I dont know how we are holding it together.”

SOURCE

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