A LAWYER faces a £50,000 bill after losing a court battle sparked when her neighbour’s gardener “hacked” at the “lovely thick” hedge dividing their multi-million pound homes.
Solicitor Julia Lofthouse, 61, was "upset" when record label boss Nick Hartley told his gardener to thin the hedge, which stands on her land, without asking for her permission.
Mrs Lofthouse claimed the trimming robbed her of privacy at her £1.3m home in Esher, Surrey – and allowed her to see clearly into the tennis court of Mr Hartley’s £2.9m house.
The dispute ended in a court bottle over ownership of a 2ft strip between the hedge and the court.
Mrs Lofthouse claimed her neighbour had “unlawfully” cut the hedge and was attempting to stage a land grab of the narrow piece of ground.
But the record label boss 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 today ruled in favour of Mr Hartley and his wife Sheila, leaving Mrs Lofthouse and her husband Mark to pick up the £50,000 bill as well as legal costs.
Judge Mark Raeside QC said the Lofthouses had been "upset" by the hedge cutting but that the plans were clear. He rejected their claim that they own the thin strip between it and the tennis court.
Mr Hartley, director of independent record label group PIAS and a former chief operating officer of the Official UK Chart Company, moved into the £1.9m house with his wife 2007.
Mrs Lofthouse inherited her home, which has an adjoining back garden, from her father Peter Lofthouse and moved in in 2011.
Mr Hartley told the court that he got on well with Peter Lofthouse and had regularly agreed to trim the hedge from his side while also maintaining the top.
But he insisted that the strip of land on his side of the edge, which separates it from the tennis court, was 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.
Giving evidence, he told the judge: “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 added 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.
Mr Hartley continued: “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.
“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.
She told the judge: "The hedge had been thinned considerably, we now had no privacy."
Giving judgment, Judge Raeside accepted that the hedge must have been maintained from the Hartleys' side for years even before they moved in.
"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.
He said the Lofthouses would have to pay the Hartleys' £46,000 lawyers' bills of the case, on top of their own.
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