Ownership case knows no boundaries

Roger Pearson reports on the 11-year war waged between two landowners over boundary lines and ownership of a hedge.

It may only be a humble ditch separating two fields in Staffordshire, but when the hedge that went with it was grubbed out and replaced with a wooden post and wire fence the law books came out.

Since 1995, the ditch's legal status as a boundary has taxed the minds of a county court judge at Stoke on Trent, two Court of Appeal judges and three Law Lords. But the legal battle over the ditch at Saverley Green Farm in Staffordshire is not over.

Now the path has been paved for it to be mulled over by more top legal brains. The House of Lords has granted leave for a full appeal – to go before five Law Lords – which will further probe the boundary lines of the Saverley ditch.

If ever a legal battle illustrated that no case is too lowly to be considered by the UK's top legal brains, it is this dispute, which has been raging since 1987.

It began when a Mr Insley pulled up a hedge dividing the two fields and put in the fence. Wibberley Building Ltd retaliated with allegations of trespass and claimed damages. It argued that where two adjoining, but separately owned fields were divided by a hedge and a ditch, ownership of the hedge and ditch was presumed to be that of the owner of the land on the hedge side of the ditch.

However, Wibberley arg-ued that this was not the case when land had been conveyed by reference to an Ordnance Survey map which set out where the boundary was.

At Stoke on Trent County Court in November 1995, Recorder Pardoe QC agreed with Wibberley and his decision was upheld last year by Lords Justices Hobhouse and Millett in the Court of Appeal.

Now though, Lords Browne-Wilkinson, Clyde and Hutton have given leave for Insley to take his challenge to a full appeal before five Law Lords, probably to be heard later this year.