Kennels owner landed with £93,000 legal bill in neighbour row over dog noise
PUBLISHED: 12:57 30 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:07 31 July 2019
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
A kennels owner has been landed with a £93,000 legal bill after her barrister neighbour took a "Rolls Royce" approach to her dogs being too loud.
Barrister Matthew McNiff made hundreds of iPhone recordings of dogs barking, yelling and whining in a bid to prove that Sharon Tidnam had breached a court order made to halt noise nuisance from her kennels at Low Farm, Topcroft.
In 2018 he brought a private prosecution against Mrs Tidman, who he was previously good friends with, following an increase in noise.
Mrs Tidnam, 62, was then found guilty at a hearing in June of breaching a nuisance order.
And on Tuesday Great Yarmouth Magistrates Courts fined her for that breach and ordered her to pay £3,000 compensation to Mr McNiff.
The court also told her to pay his court costs of £93,000 within three months.
Mrs Tidnam's solicitor accused Mr McNiff of taking a "Rolls Royce approach" by employing expensive solicitors.
Dozens of villagers from Topcroft rallied in support of the kennels owner with 30 people packing the public gallery.
After the judge retired, a tearful Mrs Tidnam protested her innocence and proclaimed: "I have done nothing wrong".
Speaking outside of court, she said: "I am absolutely devastated.
"The expense and having to pay in three months, I have limited means. The only money I have got is what's coming in the future, I have no savings.
"You can't call this justice."
Appearing via video link, prosecutor Miles Bennett said sentencing and punishment "was the least important concern" for Mr McNiff, adding: "The primary concern is why it's taken so long to remedy the issue."
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He added: "This was not an occasional breach over a short period of time."
But Marcus Croskill, for Mrs Tidnam, said that the mere hearing of a dog is not a nuisance, adding that neighbours in the vicinity who walked their dogs "rarely heard the dog noise, but when they did hear it, it was at an acceptable level".
Mr Croskill said South Norfolk District Council made 317 recordings of the noise and considered there was no nuisance.
But District Judge Malcolm Dodds, appearing by video link, said these comments were unhelpful, as two district judges - including himself - found there was "a serious nuisance that must stop".
He said he understood that "everybody in this case loves dogs" and that in this "dog-loving nation" Mrs Tidnam worked hard and played an important role in running her kennels which were in high demand.
Addressing Mrs Tidnam, he said that while the breach was reckless rather than deliberate, she had buried her head in the sand in dealing with it.
"This to my mind is a very sad case involving four extremely sad people," he said.
"Clearly I found that Mr and Mrs McNiff bought their dream home and I found that it was ruined by noise and nuisance from your kennels."
He said he had taken into account the victim statements by both Mr and Mrs McNiff, in which they both described being "distressed, miserable and shattered".
To Mrs Tidnam, he said: "On balance against that, I also accept it's had a terrible effect on you. That was well illustrated by your husband breaking down when describing the effect this has had on you."
He said the objectives of this case were to end the nuisance, to allow the McNiffs to sell their house and start a new life and to allow Mrs Tidnam to carry on running her kennels.
"Punishment is almost a side issue," Judge Dodds said.
There were gasps from the public gallery when Mrs Tidnam was ordered to pay Mr McNiff's legal costs of £93,000 in three months.
Judge Dodds said he rejected Mr Croskill's argument of the "Roll Royce approach" and said Mrs Tidnam had been found guilty twice in two hearings.
"I and Judge [Michael] Snow on separate hearings clearly found a serious nuisance that must stop," he said.