Compensation for 'visceral vilification’

Posted: 14th February 2014

HouseA couple who waged a ‘campaign of visceral vilification’ against an elderly neighbour who defied them in a dispute over a right of way and a 12-inch-wide strip of garden have been ordered to pay her more than £36,000 damages for harassment and the five years of nuisance that they caused her.

The married couple had engaged in a ‘troubling and sinister’ bid to blacken the name of the vulnerable and deaf pensioner, even attempting to have her committed to a mental hospital in the hope that her enforced departure from her home would enable them to trample upon her rights.

The old lady, a church warden who had spent her life helping others, had won a dispute with the couple over a right of way and the boundary between their two gardens and that was the signal for them to launch their ‘attack upon her wellbeing and integrity’, Central London County Court found.

The court ordered the couple to pay the pensioner £36,750 damages to reflect the ‘five years of living hell’ that she had endured. The husband was also ordered to pay £2,000 for an assault on his neighbour which caused her lasting injury. The couple will also have to pay an estimated £300,000 in legal costs bills.

The court found that the couple had set about ‘destroying what had been a happy little community where neighbours helped each other out’ by instigating the dispute with the pensioner. They subjected her to ‘corrosive, unnecessary needling’ and the husband wrote a string of letters to social services, questioning her mental health and urging them to section her.

The pensioner had found herself ‘becalmed within in a whirlwind of lies and false accusations’ as the ‘dishonest, devious and manipulative’ couple tried to ruin her. The judge noted, "Whilst it is not uncommon for a home owner to genuinely but mistakenly hotly dispute the existence or route of a right of way, it is extremely unusual for him or her to conduct themselves in any way even remotely equating to that of this couple. That conduct, even in the context of a neighbour's dispute, is of sufficient gravity to justify criminal sanction.

"The couple embarked upon a campaign of harassment of their neighbour motivated by a desire to get her to abandon the right of way and re-align the rear boundary so that (the house) could be sold free of the right of way and with a slightly larger rear garden. The couple embarked upon a campaign of visceral vilification directed at a vulnerable neighbour. The campaign combined physical obstruction and assault, with direct and indirect mental manipulation and abuse designed to destabilize (the pensioner) and turn her neighbours against her.

"When she would not comply with their desires, they ratcheted up their campaign, making false and malicious allegations to police and social services with the object of getting her removed from her home of over 20 years by arrest and imprisonment or being sectioned.

"Their campaign of harassment has been of the utmost gravity, involving as it did false allegations to the police and also to social services with the troubling and somewhat sinister intent that the deaf, 67-year-old lady be removed from her home, so clearing the way for the house to be sold free of interference from her, namely asserting her legitimate and indisputable rights."

In awarding costs against the couple, the court found that their case was ‘wholly without merit and had been fabricated from the beginning’.