Common people take on City gent over land rights
news at tlio.org.uk
Mon May 16 02:27:53 BST 2005
Village revolt as common people take on City gent over land rights
Intimidation claimed in contest over ancient green
Thursday April 28, 2005
Plump pheasants pick their way across the grass and ducks circle the
pond on the common. Tucked away in the green folds of north Norfolk,
little has disturbed the bucolic peace of Hanworth since Saxon times.
But now this tiny community of brick and flint cottages near Cromer
has been thrown back into the feudal era after a descendant of William
the Conqueror seized control of the village common he claimed had been
"stolen" from his family by local people.
The Hon Robert Harbord-Hamond, youngest son of the 11th Baron of
Suffield, erected a barbed-wire fence around the 14-hectare (34-acre)
common last week. A reformed drug addict who returned to his family
seat in Norfolk after a career as a City trader, Mr Harbord-Hamond
insists he is the rightful owner.
The 100 residents of Hanworth are in open revolt. They confirmed
yesterday they would take Mr Harbord-Hamond to court to contest both
ownership and access to the common, where they have grazed livestock,
walked dogs and played with their children for generations. If they
are defeated, some residents fear they could lose their homes.
As tensions rise, villagers claim they have felt intimidated by a man
with binoculars and a dog who has been "patrolling" the common. The
police have been called to the conservation area at least 10 times in
the past week.
In turn, Mr Harbord-Hamond, who has been living in a rented cottage on
the edge of the green, is understood to feel he is the one being
threatened and verbally abused. Officers are investigating a complaint
of criminal damage to his fence.
Susan Frances has grown up with the green where her grandfather used
to put chickens, geese and goats out to graze. "This has always been
common land for hundreds of years," she said, gazing across the barbed
wire. "I've lived here all my life. No one wants this fence down more
than I do. It's like Colditz. It's absolutely horrendous."
Cherry and Reg Simpson's house now has barbed wire around three sides.
"It's such a sleepy, tranquil place and this man has caused mayhem,"
said Mrs Simpson, who has lived in Hanworth for 18 years. "He may or
may not have a claim to the common. That's hardly the point. He's got
a security guard parading round the common with a pit-bull. My
neighbour is too frightened to go to bowls at night because she
doesn't want to meet this chap.
"It's disrupted a lovely, quiet hamlet and made people anxious and
worried, especially the old people. Everybody living in Hanworth wants
the common back."
Many of the houses in the village still have ancient grazing rights in
their title deeds. In 1974 the national commons commissioner awarded
the ancient green to the villagers. No one objected and a management
committee was formed of four trustees, who let the common to a local
grazier. For 31 years, grazing fees have been used to keep the common
tidy, drained and maintained, with every resident receiving a share of
any excess - £1 each in recent times - at the year end.
While villagers claim Mr Harbord-Hamond accused them of being
"thieves, liars and cheats" who snatched the land from his relative
Doris Harbord in her dotage, Mr Harbord-Hamond is believed to be
basing his claim to the common on records showing the third Lord
Suffield was granted the land in 1777 in return for giving £10 worth
of bread to the poor.
Mr Harbord-Hamond claims to be acting in the benevolent spirit of his
ancestors, particularly the third Lord Suffield, renowned for his
charitable works. After quitting his fast-living City lifestyle, Mr
Harbord-Hamond had a spell in the Priory, the addiction treatment
centre, before returning to Norfolk on a mission to provide affordable
homes for local people.
An ambitious scheme to build homes for key workers on a putting green
in Cromer was rejected as Mr Harbord-Hamond took control of his
estate, which he claims stretches across a large swath of north
Norfolk. According to Mr Harbord-Hamond, he took his estate out of a
trust in which it had been held ever since the third Lord Suffield
feared his son, an inveterate gambler, would squander the family
Dick Price, one of the village common trustees, said local people were
"intimidated" by Mr Harbord-Hamond and the workers who erected the
fence. "People are fed up and some are a little frightened. He has men
walking about the village with a dog. An associate of his has parked a
caravan on the common. We don't know what he is going to do next."
Mr Harbord-Hamond said he had been advised not to comment on the
dispute. While he is trying to sell the common in a neighbouring
village, Roughton, for development, it is understood that he plans to
manage Hanworth common in a traditional way for cattle grazing.
According to Mr Harbord-Hamond's estate office, the man in the caravan
on the common is not a security guard but a Traveller on whom the
landowner took pity. The caravan-dweller has told both sides he has
been "sent from God".
Mr Harbord-Hamond is understood to be confident the commons
commissioner's judgment will be overturned. Meanwhile, Hanworth
residents are amassing a fighting fund for the court case. The
trustees of the common would be liable for costs - and could lose
their homes - if they lost their legal challenge.
North Norfolk district council has backed the villagers, and the
Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, has pledged his
support. "It's completely out of order. It strikes me as remarkably
feudal," Mr Lamb said. "It's important to try to get the two sides
together but my view is it is unacceptable to fence in common land
this way. I'm very much on the side of the people of the village who
want to get the fencing down."
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