Footpath row victor blasts Wrexham council after labelling seven-year battle 'a waste of ratepayers money'

Reporter:

Paul Chamberlain

A man who won a footpaths battle against Wrexham Council says the local authority has wasted thousands of pounds on the saga.

A frustrated Dale Martin Robertson found himself in court yesterday being prosecuted for the criminal offence of obstructing a footpath which, he said, did not exist.

He denied the offence and was cleared after his lawyer successfully argued that magistrates could not be sure a footpath ran through his client’s property.

Mr Robertson, of Moss Lane, Moss, near Wrexham, was found not guilty after magistrates ruled that Wrexham Council had not proved its case.

He said at the end of an all-day trial at Flintshire Magistrates Court in Mold that he was delighted with the decision and said common sense had prevailed.

Mr Robertson said it had brought a long legal nightmare to an end and praised magistrates for being pro-active and having a site meeting at his property earlier in the day, rather than doing it from behind desks as, he alleged, council officials and the planning inspector had done.

Barrister Mark le Brocq, prosecuting, alleged that between January and April Mr Robertson obstructed the free passage of a highway – Gwersyllt Footpath No 19 – which appears on the footpaths definite map.

He called two officials to give evidence that the boundary wall obstructed the path and they said Mr Robertson had refused to open up a gap in the wall.

Euros Jones, defending, did not call any evidence but submitted that the magistrates could not be sure the footpath actually went through the boundary wall. He said the definitive map did now show precisely where it went.

He added Mr Robertson and his wife had been given planning consent for a £100,000 extension to their home by the same authority, which had not mentioned any footpath at that stage.

Magistrates said a 1978 definitive map showed a footpath to the boundary wall but gave no assistance as to its progress beyond that point.

The cottage had been in existence since the 19th century and the latest definitive map was more than 48 years old, a long period of time when confusion and disputes could occur.

A planning inspector had refused an appeal to modify the path but he had not visited the site and his decision was taken “on the balance of probabilities”.

The magistrates said the standard of proof had to be beyond reasonable doubt and they found the council had not proved its case.

Mr Robertson, a group leader for JCB, said: “We have had seven years of serious legal toing and froing, where the council was demanding what we should do.

“They tried to break us, hoping we would back down.”

His costs for the hearing would be paid from central funds but he said the battle had cost him between £15,000 and £20,000.

He claimed it had been a waste of public funds.

There was a footpath adjacent to the cottage which had been in his family for 50 years and that was the one which everyone used.

“No-one knew about this alleged footpath,” he said. “If we had opened a gap in the wall it would have had security implications. We have already been the victims of crime.”

If he had lost, it would have meant members of the public walking within feet of his home.

North Wales Police Commissioner Arfon Jones, the former county councillor for the area, was in court to support Mr Robertson and said he had spent many years trying to persuade the council that it was a mistake and it could modify, divert or extinguish the path.

“Their attitude has been petty and pedantic,” he said. “I dread to think how much taxpayers’ money had been wasted on this flawed prosecution. This is not a good use of resources.”

Mr Jones questioned why the authority employed a barrister to prosecute the case, which he said would be more expensive than using their own in-house lawyers.

His wife Gwenfair Jones, the current county councillor for the area, said she would now be asking the authority how much the case had cost the people of Wrexham.

Email:

paul.chamberlain@nwn.co.uk

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