Battle has brought us all together

It has been a quite extraordinary two years in the parish of Hanworth, a gentle off-the-beaten-track community with as many pheasants and cattle as people.

It has been a quite extraordinary two years in the parish of Hanworth, a gentle off-the-beaten-track community with as many pheasants and cattle as people.

To describe the events as a David and Goliath conflict would be wrong - in fact to describe it in any way has become something of a challenge.

Aristocrat, Old Harrovian, baron's son and property developer Robert Harbord-Hamond first began to claim rights over the common after acquiring an interest in the remnants of the historic Suffield Estate in 2004.

The village has stood shoulder to shoulder together in response, organising a series of money raising events such as a half marathon, teas on the common, a parachute jump and an open gardens day.

Since the spat began, there have been a number of face to face confrontations, police have been called, fences erected and deliberately - and sometimes quite openly - damaged, on one occasion by a former police officer. The chairman of the commons committee even suffered a heart attack after one of the rows.

Both North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and peer Lord Walpole have been drawn into the fray, as have North Norfolk District Council and, of course, the county court.

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The perception of what has been happening has been further complicated because there have been two separate but linked disputes - one over the ownership of the common and the other over a barbed wire fence erected around the land last year, variously described by villagers as “ugly” and “like a Gulag”. The latter of these was resolved some months ago, but the former needed a three-day court case, a QC and huge piles of paperwork to determine.

And then of course there were the tatty abandoned caravans and truck, broken glass and all, removed in July after more than a year at one end of the common.

In amongst all this, tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on legal fees and royal solicitors Farrer & Co have been involved, although not latterly.

Despite their victory this series of events is something which the villagers will not look back on with any fondness. Except perhaps when they consider how this almighty unpleasant row has had one hugely positive outcome - by bringing one community closer together than it has ever been.

“Everybody has worked hard to support the two trustees, who have put everything they own on the line for our community,” said commons committee chairman Robert Corbishley.

“We have baked cakes, run marathons, washed up, whatever it has taken - and we have had some fun in amongst it all.

“We can be called a true community in every sense of the word.”