A COUPLE who said their lives had been made a misery by the racket from a nearby stadium and motor cycle track near their West Row home are facing financial ruin after their case hit the buffers today.
Fireman Raymond Shields and his partner Katherine Lawrence of Fenland, Cooks Drove, argued the cacophony of noise from Mildenhall Stadium and motocross track blighted their daily lives - but are now facing enormous lawyers’ bills after their marathon legal campaign ended in failure at London’s Appeal Court.
But in a decision with far-reaching implications for land use, three judges ruled the stadium and track, both of which have planning permission, are “an established part of the character of the locality” and, despite the noise, did not amount to a “nuisance” in law.
The ruling means Mr Shields and Ms Lawrence will be stripped of a £20,000 damages pay out they were awarded by a judge last year and face having to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs bills.
They must pay costs of £85,000 on account straight away, but that is likely to be only a small fraction of their eventual bill.
Lord Justice Jackson said the stress and cost of the couple’s two-and-a-half-year struggle through the courts were both “huge”, and told the court: “The outcome of this litigation will be a disaster for the claimants, a fact which I regret”.
But he added: “On the other hand, their predicament is a consequence of their decision to purchase a house in an area where motor sports were an established activity”.
The couple are adamant that, when they bought their home,just 500 metres from the track, in January 2006, they were blissfully unaware that speedway, stock car racing, banger racing and motocross were going on nearby.
But Lord Justice Jackson said that was “most surprising” when all relevant planning permissions, going back to 1975, and certificates of lawful use were available for inspection on the local authority’s register.
And he observed: “It is a matter of prudence, indeed basic common sense, to inspect that register before purchasing a property in a rural location”.
Whilst emphasising that he was making no finding of dishonesty against Mr Shields or Ms Lawrence, the judge said the motor sports use “was or should have been apparent to the purchasers and the purchasers’ professional advisers”.
Dismissing the couple’s damages action, the judge, sitting with Lords Justice Mummery and Lewison, concluded: “The noise of motor sports emanating from the track and the stadium are an established part of the character of the locality”.
In a High Court ruling last year, Judge Richard Seymour QC dismissed claims that incidents of “harassment” the couple said they suffered due to the stand they took over noise could be pinned on any of those involved in owning or operating the venue.
The court was told the couple’s cars in Fenland’s driveway were attacked by a forklift truck in the early hours of April 21 2010. An oil tank was fractured during the incident, sending heating oil flowing into the bungalow.
That resulted in Mr Shields and Ms Lawrence, a management consultant, leaving their home and, in their absence, on June 11 2010, the bungalow was badly damaged by fire - a blaze which the couple claimed was “caused deliberately”.
However, Judge Seymour said there was “not a scrap of evidence” as to the identity of the forklift truck driver and it was “simply not good enough” for the couple to say that the owners or operators of the venue were implicated.
Dismissing the couple’s claim for “aggravated” and “exemplary” damages, the judge said he could reach no conclusion on the cause of the fire at Fenland.
However, the judge went on to award the couple more than £20,000 damages against David Coventry, one of the stadium’s freehold owners, and Moto-Land UK Ltd, which operates the motocross track. That payout was overturned by the Appeal Court today.
The couple’s first complaints about the noise were lodged with Forest Heath District Council three months after they moved into Fenland and Mr Shields even built a straw bale wall around the house to prevent his peace and quiet being ruined.
However, Lord Justice Jackson said planning permission for the stadium, the home of the Fen Tigers speedway team, was granted as long ago as 1975; local authorities were “supportive” of the venue and planing consent for the motocross track followed in 2002.