Brothers' land feud is settled

With a boarded-up door and garden of waist-high weeds, the mobile home looked almost uninhabitable yesterday. But it was this home, on an overgrown patch of land in Gateley, near Fakenham, that drove a rift between two elderly brothers and set them on a collision course in London's High Court.

With a boarded-up door and garden of waist-high weeds, the mobile home looked almost uninhabitable yesterday.

But it was this home, on an overgrown patch of land in Gateley, near Fakenham, that drove a rift between two elderly brothers and set them on a collision course in London's High Court.

William Woodcock, 81, had wanted to evict his 73-year-old brother and neighbour Edward from the land, forcing him to leave the caravan that he has lived in since 1974.

William, a father of three, claimed that Edward did not contribute towards the £1,200 cost of the five-acre plot when it was bought in 1961, and therefore held no beneficial interest in it and no right to stay.

It was a far cry from the close relationship they enjoyed when they ran a garage together in the 1960s, a time where Edward told the court he had "worshipped" his older brother.

So there was celebration yester-day when, on the second day of a costly three-day hearing, the brothers put their differences aside and settled out of court.

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Deputy Judge Sonia Proudman QC said she "could not be more delighted" that the dispute had ended amicably.

"This was a case which cried out for a settlement because this piece of land is large enough to accommodate both parties," she told the court.

"Family litigation is always sad. The court decides the dispute on the law and the evidence and, frequently, the decision does not resolve the underlying grievances, the public airing of which sets them in stone forever."

The brothers and their legal teams got around the table and thrashed out an agreement, granting Edward ownership of the part of the land - approximately a third of an acre - on which he has been living for more than 30 years.

Edward had claimed that he and his brother agreed to buy the land together, in his brother's name, and that he contributed half of the £400 deposit and more in weekly mortgage repayments.

William had denied that his brother had paid anything towards the cost of the land and said that, when Edward came to stay there, he had done so only by his permission.

He asked him to vacate the land in May 2001, but Edward refused, and court proceedings ensued.

Had the case run its expected three days, the judge would have had to decide whether Edward could establish that he had a beneficial interest in the property and, if so, what that interest was.

Alternatively, she could have ruled on his claims that he had developed ownership rights over the part of the land where his caravan stands because of his continuous occupation of it over many years.

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