Day village came to court to win common

Nearly half the adult population of a tiny village turned out yesterday for what should be the start of the final battle in a long running war over the ownership of a Norfolk common.

Nearly half the adult population of a tiny village turned out yesterday for what should be the start of the final battle in a long running war over the ownership of a Norfolk common.

Picturesque Hanworth Common, near Cromer, has been at the centre of an acrimonious two-year row involving 35 acres of grazing land.

Yesterday the quarrel reached Norwich County Court, where the two sides - baron's son Robert Harbord-Hamond and the two trustees of the Hanworth Commons Committee - appeared for the opening skirmishes of what has been listed as a four day trial.

The committee trustees, Tony Hadlow and Dick Price, were supported by around 25 villagers at the court, several giving evidence during the latter part of the day.

The bitter dispute has been reported extensively in the EDP for 18 months and has featured two main differences of opinion, on the one hand concern over a barbed wire fence erected by contractors working on behalf of Mr Harbord-Hamond and on the other the basic question of who owns the common.

It is the second of these points which is being put to the test at the county court hearing.

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The majority of the villagers arrived at court in a minibus for yesterday's proceedings, almost filling every seat in the court room.

The court heard a lengthy submission from QC Vivian Chapman, representing the commons committee trustees.

A series of legal documents including conveyances and indentures ranging from recent years back to 1851 were produced and a detailed outline given of the complicated nature of the contested ownership.

Key documents included minutes showing how the common had been managed since at least as far back as 1909 by the commons committee, a 1974 commons commissioner ruling registering four members of the commons committee as owners of the common and a 1990 conveyance covering the sale of the manorial rights to Michael Barclay, who lives at Hanworth Hall.

There was also mention of one of Mr Harbord-Hamond's relatives, Doris Harbord, and her involvement in the common.

Mr Chapman said Mr Harbord-Hamond had got to show he had “paper title” of the common.

“We say he simply can't do that,” added Mr Chapman.

“My clients have no paper title to the common, but the commons commissioner decided in 1974 they had title by adverse possession.”

The law covering adverse possession allows an individual or group to claim land simply because it has been in their use for a certain amount of time.

But Mr Chapman said adverse possession did not matter in this case because the law protected the person in possession against the person - in this case Mr Harbord-Hamond - trying to “intervene”.

Mr Harbord-Hamond, representing himself, said he was simply trying to get the estate of his predecessors in order and referred to how he felt the commons committee had been “squatting” on the land.

Several witnesses were called, including Mr Hadlow, Mr Price, Mr Price's wife Jean, chairman of the commons committee Robert Corbishley, Mr Barclay and a number of other villagers.

The trial continues today.