JUDGES have been spared further disturbance from paintball games in woods near their country retreat.

The 18th Century Southill Hall, at Plawsworth, near Chester-le-Street and Durham City, is the special accommodation provided for High Court judges when they are hearing cases on the North-East court circuit.

The Ministry of Justice stepped in to protect their peace and quiet when a planning application was lodged for paintballing in Blackdene Wood.

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The Ministry told Durham County Council’s planning department it did not object in principle to the plan but was concerned that in its current form it could disturb the judges.

And after hearing how other residents would be disturbed by the sound of guns and players shouting, the council’s north area planning committee refused to give planning permission.

The area has been used for paintballing before – a previous five-year temporary permission allowed up to 75 days’paintballing a year and paintballing could take place legally for up to 28 days a year without permission under planning rules.

David Brocklehurst, of property consultants GVA, said judges and their clerks required peace and quiet and the Ministry shared the view of residents that the application would cause disturbance.

Local councillor Jim Cordon said: “Judges have to deal with some very nasty people and they need to work in peace and quiet.

“They also need to be secure, and opening up the place to people worries me.’’ A Plawsworth resident told councillors that noise from paintballing had a big impact on local people’s lives and meant they had to stay indoors .

“It is like being under siege in your home and it is unacceptable.”

The application by Habour House Farms wopuld have allowed paintballing up to 150 days a year.

The applicants said the plan would create two full-time and 20 part-time jobs and that they had made efforts to minimize the impact of noise.

Planning officer Steve France said it was difficult to assess the impact of noise as paintballing produced “random spikes of sound”.