A JUDGE has delivered a scathing assessment of a legal wrangle over a family farm – and potentially given the green light to a huge new housing development on the site.
Christopher Shepherd, along with his sister Joanne Long, had sought possession of the 65 acre West Musgrave Farm, in St Helen Auckland, County Durham, in a civil claim heard at Newcastle County Court.
However the claim was disputed by his brother Paul Shepherd who said he had been granted a 40 year farm business tenancy by Christopher in January 2001 and was entitled to possession having been a sitting tenant.
Judge Roger Kaye, who heard the case, said his judgement the tenancy was not genuine and “did not truly exist”.
He also blasted the amount of time spent on the proceedings saying the litigants had repeatedly failed to abide by the rules or orders of the court.
In his ruling he described Paul, who was joined by another brother Anthony Raymond in defending the claim, as “evasive and his evidence largely unreliable”.
The judge said: “Paul has no right to remain on any part of the property. He is simply a trespasser.”
Christopher and Joanne, who were given the farm by their late parents, could now pocket more than £4m between them should they agree a deal to sell the land to developer Tindale, which has been awaiting a decision over possession.
It is thought up to 600 houses could be built on the land should planning permission be secured.
Tindale is also undertaking to clean-up the site, which adjoins Louisa Terrace and has been described by local residents as a “blot on the landscape”.
The case turned on the existence of the tenancy agreement which the claimants contended was “cobbled together” from photocopies of another tenancy Christopher had granted relating to land in Cumbria.
Despite requests from the court to see original document, it was never produced. Christopher and Joanne also denied any agreement had been entered into.
Kevin Graham, chairman of St Helen’s Residents Association, said: “The farm has been a thorn in our side for a long time. There has been the smell and trucks coming in all day and night. People were despairing.
“Now there has been some movement hopefully they can get on with doing something about the land itself.”
Last year Paul, who lived in the farmhouse until it was demolished, and Anthony Shepherd, who previously ran Darlington firm Albert Hill Skip Hire, were convicted of offences linked to the unlawful dumping of waste.
They previously declined to comment when approached by The Northern Echo and are thought to be considering an appeal.
A spokesman for Tindale said: “We are delighted that the issue over this tenancy agreement has finally been dealt with by the courts.”