Judge awards £20,000 to libelled neighbours
Posted on December 4, 2007
A bitter row about a radio antenna has shattered the peace in a quiet cul-de-sac and left a family of four facing a hefty court bill.
Last Monday a parish councillor was awarded "significant" damages after a judge decided his neighbours had launched an unnecessary personal attack during a planning dispute.
Recorder Lance Ashworth QC ruled that Cllr Ric Brand, of Mill End Close, Eaton Bray, had been unfairly victimised by neighbours Paul and Sandra Dear when he applied to put the amateur radio equipment up in his back garden.
A letter sent by the Dears to other homes in the road made a number of personal allegations which the judge said were "designed deliberately to damage Mr Brand in the eyes of others."
It is believed the libel ruling cost Mr and Mrs Dear around £10,000 in damages and another £10,000 in court costs.
After the ruling Mr Brand said he plans to give a large chunk of the money to charity.
The 61-year-old parish councillor added last week: "I sincerely wish it hadn't happened, I didn't want this.
"It really has been a most horrible time for us, but obviously you can't allow somebody just to assassinate someone's character.
"There's nothing I've got to hide, so it's a pretty sorry state of affairs. It's a situation where this guy and his wife have just turned on us."
The problems started last year when Mr Brand, an amateur radio enthusiast, applied for permission to put the antenna up.
He said he had discussed the plans with the Dears and was willing to be as accommodating as possible.
But his neighbours objected and sent copies of their objection letter to South Beds District Council and other homes in Mill End Close.
When Mr Brand was shown a copy of their letter, he said he suffered a mini-stroke.
"It was absolutely horrendous. It completely deviated away from the actual planning issue," he said.
This week Coventry County Court heard that the letter made allegations about how Mr Brand had become a councillor, and alleged that he was a "pill popper" because he takes prescribed medication.
Under cross examination Mr Dear accepted that this was "a pretty personal attack," and conceded that the aim was to injure Mr Brand in the eyes of others.
Awarding aggravated damages, the judge said: "Having considered the conduct of the Dears, Mr Brand is entitled to feel that the Dears' conduct has exascerbated the injury."
Mr Ashworth said that Mr Dear had shown genuine remorse for what he had done.
After the ruling, Mr Brand said: "At the beginning when this all kicked off, had the Dears come to me when my solicitors first contacted them and said: 'Sorry, it was out of order and we went over the top', I would have said: 'Fine'."
He said he had withdrawn legal action against another neighbour when an apology was forthcoming.
And the councillor added: "At no time did I ever use my authority as a parish councillor either for my personal gain or to solicit help when the application went before the district council.
"The parish council doesn't have the authority to pass planning applications; all they do is look at it and advise the district council."
When the application was presented to the district council, it was given the go-ahead.
But yesterday Mrs Dear said her family had objected to the radio mast plan on health grounds, and claimed many of the comments in the letter had been misinterpreted.
She also claimed that the couple had sent a retraction letter, which had not been accepted.
"Now we're worried about where we're going to get the money from.
"He didn't have to do what he did; he could just have turned round and had a meeting," she said.
But despite the tension caused, Mr Brand said: "I don't bear anybody any malice. I'm not that sort of person.
"I'm not going to start throwing my toys out of the pram. That's it as far as I'm concerned.
"They can get on with their lives and we'll get on with our lives. It didn't give me any pleasure, in fact it's pretty tragic.
"I'm just hoping that this can be an end to it all and we can resume our daily lives."
Source: Dave Burke, Leighton Buzzard Observer, 4 December 2007
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