Written by Graham Perry

Graham Perry M.A. Cantab FCIArb Experienced Arbitration Lawyer | China & Chinese Business Affairs | Public Speaker/Lecturer

9 July 2024




Playing football in the back garden is a popular recreational activity – and has been ever since houses added gardens to the property. But what happens when the ball is kicked over the fence and into the neighbour’s garden?

What happens next depends on the two sets of neighbours and their ongoing relationship. If it is good, the ball is tossed back across the fence with a “thankyou” being shouted by the happy neighbour eager to continue his kick-about. If the relationship is bad, a small problem can become a big problem. Context is everything.

A recent case in the UK County Court highlights the problem. A Dad and his family moved in next door to an Elderly Couple – long time residents. The Dad started ‘snarling’ at and mocking the Couple following a long-running feud.

After the Neighbours allegedly refused to hand over football, the Dad visited the following day and pushed his way into the Neighbour’s flat while ‘aggressively’ demanding that they return his son’s ball. The Elderly Neighbours sued the Dad for trespass and harassment – and a judge has now awarded them £19,800 in damages.

The newspaper report said that the Husband Neighbour shouted at the Dad’s son and left him in tears. The Dad said “He [the son] was very upset and I went round to the house to speak to him and get the ball back. I tried to ask nicely.”

The Judge said that although the Dad had been provoked by the refusal to return the ball, he had gone too far and displayed ‘aggressive, humiliating and intimidating‘ behaviour towards the elderly neighbours.

The Judge said  “This behaviour goes beyond that which merely causes upset,” he said. This was a neighbour’s dispute that “had got out of hand”.

The Elderly Couple had lived in their home for 40 years. The Dad and his Family were newcomers. A dispute arose over a leak of water between the two gardens and several spats ensued.

A confrontation occurred between the Dad and the Elderly Couple and this marked the start of a football being repeatedly ‘crashed’ against the common fence every weekend in a bid to ‘intimidate’ the Couple.

The Couple resorted to signing up for memberships at the British Library so that they had somewhere to go to get some peace and quiet. Tensions finally boiled over a long-weekend in May 2018, when the Couple had two fiery confrontations with the Dad and his family.

Sick of the constant noise of the ball being booted at the fence, the Elderly Neighbours decided to hurl the ball into another neighbour’s garden. On another occasion, the Neighbour confiscated the ball after being pushed to the end of his patience and took it inside of his flat – only for a ‘small army’ of the Dad’s family members to invade their garden.

The court heard that the Couple were forced to shut the door in the Dad’s face as he attempted to barge his way into their home. In what the judge described as ‘haunting’ evidence, the Elderly Wife recalled how her husband had been surrounded by the Dad’s relatives over the weekend and was ridiculed. The Dad denied any wrongdoing during the proceedings and said he was simply a dad trying to protect his young son, who had been shouted at and reduced to tears when he asked for his ball back.

Following a trial in November 2022, Judge Hellman ruled that the Dad had harassed the Elderly Couple and had trespassed on their property when ‘at least part of his body’ had entered their flat during one of the incidents.

“He was angry because they had twice reduced his eight-year-old son to tears,” the Judge said. “The depth of his anger came across very clearly when he was giving evidence.”

The Judge said that both incidents were provoked to some extent – on one occasion by ‘throwing the ball over the fence and on another retained a ball’ – but the Dad’s response was way over the top. During an adjournment the Husband of the Elderly Couple died in circumstances unrelated to the dispute.

In his judgment the Judge said “I accept he [the Dad] was angry because they had upset his son, but he has not shown me that his course of conduct was reasonable and I am satisfied that it was not,” he added.

The Judge ordered the Dad to pay £8,800 compensation to the Wife and another £11,000 to her husband’s estate, following his death after the initial trial. He also ordered the parents of the Dad to pay £1,700 compensation to reflect interference with the Elderly Neighbour’s  right of way over a passage leading to their flat, which had been frequently obstructed by building materials. The case will come back to court again at a later date for a decision as to who pays the lawyers’ bills for the dispute.

A dispute that got out of hand. It should have been nipped in the bud but how does Mediation come into play. Who does What?





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