LETTERS of support for a Somerset footpath campaigner have flooded in from all over the UK. Marlene Masters has been campaigning for more than two decades to get Somerset County Council to remove a footpath in High Ham from its official maps.
The Western Gazette reported earlier this month that Mrs Masters, of Yarlington, had applied for a judicial review to force the council to remove the path which runs past the home of the late Archie and Ivy Peppard. Now supporters of her 22-year campaign have come forward, many of whom have endured similar legal battles with their local government.
Jean Underdown, from the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, attended the public inquiry which found in Mrs Masters' favour in 2014. She said: "Mrs Masters tied the council up in knots by her superior knowledge, which they lacked. The council looked like bumbling fools, which they are, and they made the lives of the Peppards a total misery. "Do taxpayers understand how much money is wasted by these incompetent fools in council offices up and down the country? The law needs to change."
The Peppard saga began in 1959, when the council claimed a path that ran outside the Peppards' cottage as a public right of way. The Peppards began their own legal challenge in 1973, with Mrs Masters taking up their cause in 1994.
Alan Bowers, from Bedfordshire, described the council's actions as "vindictive" towards law-abiding citizens, and said that its actions should be examined on a national scale. He said: "I and many others have experienced many years of distress in trying to obtain justice regarding unlawful rights of way. Our plight is not a vote-winning issue and is ignored by those in power, who are able to right the wrongs. "Marlene Masters is an inspiration to us all: over the years she has helped many rights of way sufferers throughout the land tirelessly, and at her own expense."
Roger Duffin, of Wethersfield in Essex, described the legal battle as "a criminal waste of public money" and accused the council of "obstruction". He said: "Having allowed this case to drag on for so long, the right and proper thing to do would be to spend the relatively small amount of time required to delete this path and then set about resolving the other 300 cases with as much speed as possible. "The fact that a member of the public should have to seek a judicial review to achieve justice is saddening. The lack of transparency over the number and nature of latest objections, and the time taken, can only foster speculation at the council's true motives in dragging this case out. It would appear to have little to do with justice or democracy."
Mrs Masters said that she hopes that the judicial review will finally put an end to this long legal battle. She said: "I have been successful in the High Court in 2012, and successful in the public inquiry in 2014. "There can be no question that the council has failed in its statutory duty and allowed the opposed orders to gather dust, while making orders to 'upgrade' footpaths to restricted byways, or add footpaths or bridleways. Maybe it will be third time lucky?"
A council spokesman said: "There are two sides to this and we have a duty to progress both applications to amend the definitive map and the submission of opposed orders. This is done in parallel to make sure that neither duty is neglected. "We would stress there is no deadline for submission of opposed orders so we are not failing in our statutory duty. We remain committed to submitting the outstanding opposed orders as soon as possible, but these cases are complex and the staff resources available are under increasing pressure. "We would again like to make it clear that the High Ham footpath deletion order has attracted objections from other parties – not from the county council. Ultimately it will be up to the Planning Inspectorate to decide the outcome of the case. "From our point of view, the judicial process is an unwelcome distraction for staff who are trying to progress matters. As long as the process continues it will continue to hamper resources and cost the taxpayer more money." See the article in the Western Gazette here.
Marlene Masters takes Somerset Council to task
A SOUTH Somerset campaigner has criticised the decision to remove well-established trees in Long Sutton to open up a contested bridleway. Somerset County Council has cut down trees at Kingsmoor Drove, which have stood there since 1989, in an attempt to clear the bridleway leading from Long Load to Ilchester. But Marlene Masters, who made her name campaigning about a disputed footpath in High Ham, has attacked what she has branded a "bridleway to nowhere". Council contractors have cleared vegetation, installed a culvert, felled the trees and ground down the stumps at a cost of less than £5,000, according to a council spokesman. Mrs Masters argues that consultation about the bridleway took place in the 1970s when the Ilchester bypass was being built. She said: "There was a public opportunity to claim a footpath or bridleway status when the proposal of the Ilchester dual carriageway bypass was being discussed. But no-one did, not even the parish council or the county council. The law says 'silence is acquiescence'. No claim of a bridleway at the time means that legally there is no bridleway there." Mrs Masters added that, even if the bridleway did exist, it is impossible for riders or walkers to currently use it because of the traffic. She said: "Unless traffic lights are made available and the central reservation removed by County Highways to allow the 'alleged ancient historic bridleway' to cross over the four lanes, then there is no way the riders can continue through. They have no permission to use the over-bridge and ride a horse under the RNAS Yeovilton flight path." Mrs Masters has now applied for the bridleway to be deleted from the county council's official maps.
The council has said that the removal of the trees was undertaken as part of its statutory duty and that the scope had been agreed with the landowner in October. It added that "the existence of the bridleway is not seriously disputed" following a public enquiry nine years ago, which was upheld at a High Court appeal.
A spokesman said: "Previous attempts to formally divert the bridleway around a woodland that obstructs the way have unfortunately failed. "We had been served a Highways Act notice by a third party to clear the woodland obstruction, and if we fail to remove the obstruction the matter could be referred to the Magistrates Court. "The bridleway still remains obstructed by the A303 near Ilchester and we continue to look at options with Highways England to resolve this. The nearby over-bridge is only available for pedestrians. There are no public access rights for cyclists or horse-riders over this bridge.The works will provide for a more direct through route for walkers between Long Load and Ilchester." The council has not confirmed the identity of the third party who served the notice for the trees to be removed.
There are thousands of people who are or have been affected by a local authority where they have made a public right of way across someone’s front garden like mine. In my case Suffolk County Council did not comply with the legislation of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, where they did not serve the notices required by LAW on the land owner, occupier and lessee of the property, and hence we did not know we even had a public footpath until the police came to my home some 6 months after the footpath became legal and asked me to keep my dog on a lead in my own land!!! I wasn’t even given the 42 days to appeal the decision.
Terrible and scandalous yes I know but Suffolk County Council insists that the footpath is legal and now they have made me take down gates that have been there for over 12 years to protect my livestock, because they have had complaints that I am obstructing the path. It is unbelievable that the gates have been there all this time, and people have managed to get in and out of a 12 foot 5 bar gate, but now I have been bullied into taking them down. There are 3 other footpaths within a 2 mile radius of my home and they still have their gates UP!!!!
My footpath goes right up my private drive and through my front garden, washing line included. It is beyond belief why someone would want to walk through my front garden when there are loads of nice countryside walks. Having said that, since the path has been implemented we have suffered mindless vandalism and thefts including nails in our tyres, our horse box scratched, rocks thrown at our pony, (nearly a bucket full) old boots and a camera lens thrown at our geese, various thefts including horse head collars, rugs and eggs taken from my hen house. I have even had a man in my feed room claiming to be lost and a man came close last summer and took photos of my daughter in her bikini. I have written to David Cameron, Defra and the Planning Inspectorate but not one of their people have come back with any sensible answers. I wrote to David Cameron twice and I explained to him, that if a public footpath is made and the order making authority does NOT comply with the legislation of the Act is the footpath a legal one?
Suffolk County council has admitted to me in writing that they didn’t comply with the law when making the footpath, yet they say I have to keep it open, Why, I say when my footpath is an illegally made footpath. Suffolk did not comply with the Act they falsified their certificate to state that all requirements were met under the Act, yet they are allowed to get away with daylight robbery of my land. My deeds don’t show a footpath, nor does the Inclosure Award 1808, nor does the Tithe Taxes 1839, nor does the Finance Act. It was 8 people who claim that they walked the way for 20 years without interruption and as a right.
Luckily I have traced the last two owners who have both written and stated that they did indeed close the way for 2 days a year and luckily for me they have produced a photo of a sign that was displayed that clearly said no public right of way.
It is a horrible situation to be in, because I have suffered the injustice and failings of Suffolk County Council, I have received verbal abuse from walkers who shout ‘lose’ to me and my children and I have to put up with people wandering around right next to my house at all hours. The anguish I have suffered in unimaginable.
Update on the Suffolk Family Problems
4/2/2016 IF members travelled to London to support Debbie and her family at a Judicial review. We were all left stunned at the speed and outcome of the proceedings. It took under 20minutes for the judge to read out his prepared decision.There was no opportunity to elaborate on the submitted skeleton argument or challenge the decision. There was,in fact, no advantage for anyone's attendance at the court proceedings. The order decision could have been posted. Debbie lost her judicial review. £3000 costs. I hope the two representatives of the County Council who need not have been there and merely observed for 20mins enjoyed their day out at Debbie's expense. I have now learned that the law takes no account of safety,privacy,distress,crime etc when considering public rights of way claims. There appears to be no such thing as natural Justice. Public rights of way laws are ill conceived and must be changed because it is these very laws which are upheld by the law makers who have made them.The only way to 'win' is to identify an error of law. It seems that 'true' justice is neither affordable or accessible to 'ordinary' people.
Park owner wins the right to take his coastal path battle to appeal. Click here to see the story.
Local Public Enquiry in Caerphilly
There is an LPI in Caerphilly on the 25th October - scheduled for 3 days. (see pic right, click here for a pdf of the LPI Caerphilly made an Order to DELETE a footpath originally recorded under the 1949 Act. OSS has objected! Caerphilly is supporting the Order and has instructed a Cardiff Barrister - Emyr Jones. The landowner may be instructing a Barrister too.............as for OSS it seems that that local OSS rep cannot attend but I suspect OSS will send someone along. Two of our members are going along.
It crosses my mind that this a FIRST - a Council SUPPORTING a Deletion Order!
Caerphilly is a long way for most of you to come and attend but we are pretty sure there will be interest from you all.