The feud played out between a retired dentist, Dr Richard Wozniak, and his accountant wife, Bridget Kelly, who moved to the village of Rosgill in the Lake District, and the publisher of the Concerned of Rosgill website, Chloe Randall. The dispute concerned unregistered land located between two plots bought by Dr Wozniak and his wife in 2015. The land was used on the basis of a right of way by both the new arrivals and their neighbours.
In 2017, Dr Wozniak’s solicitors advised him he had a claim to ownership under the “ad medium filum” principle.
The principle states that there is a “rebuttable boundary presumption that an owner of land which abuts either a public or private highway or a non-tidal river or stream also owns the soil of the highway, or the bed of the river or stream, up to the mid or centre point.”
Ms Randall, however, disagreed and applied to the Lake District National Park Authority for an order under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 adding a byway open to all traffic along the disputed area.
The High Court, which sat in the County Court in North Shields because of the COVID-19 pandemic, heard about many incidents that took place between the neighbours.
Those included allegations of assaults and harassment, a cattle stampede, the installation of gates, rows about parking and allegations of theft of rubbish bags.
Dr Wozniak and Ms Kelly eventually ended up suing Ms Randall over nine web articles describing them as “offensive individuals,” ”townies,” “social pariahs,” and “liars, thieves and bullies”.
Ms Randall then offered a defence of truth under the Defamation Act 2013.
Mr Justice Soole, who was giving judgement, said that both sides “have been well-matched both in the intensity of their beliefs as to the rightness of their position and in the resources deployed”.
The judge also added that Dr Wozniak “came across as a man with a very strong sense of his perceived legal rights and of his determination to uphold them against any perceived wrongful challenge. This is coupled with a manner which is relatively inflexible and not readily leavened by humour”.
Mr Justice Soole described Ms Randall as an honest witness and said “her passion for Rosgill and its perceived rights and traditions has on occasions overtaken her judgement”.
In the end, the judge found six of the nine articles defamatory, including meeting the test under the 2013 act of causing “serious harm to reputation of the claimant”.
Mr Justice Soole found that each claimant should be awarded £7,500 in damages, while the costs of the proceedings were estimated at around £66,000.
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Noting that ‘I do not wish to give any encouragement to any continuation of this litigation’, the judge agreed to an order allowing the claimants to restrain any further publication of the libels.