Doctor faces £200,000 bill for ‘ambitious’ land grab of neighbours’ gardens

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  • July 18, 2023
  • Comments Off on Doctor faces £200,000 bill for ‘ambitious’ land grab of neighbours’ gardens
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A top doctor who ‘orchestrated’ and ‘ambitious’ land grab on her three neighbours’ back gardens has been slammed by a judge and left facing a £200,000 court bill. 

Veena Paes, who specialises in public health research, became embroiled in a legal battle over who owns a large rectangle of land between their homes and her own £1,000,000 house in south London

Her three neighbours had always regarded the 84ft by 20ft strip as forming a large part of each of their back gardens, Central London County Court heard. 

But in 2015, Dr Paes and her husband, finance boss, Melanius, started claiming documents dating back to Victorian times proved it actually belonged to them. 

Lawyers for the neighbours called her arguments a ‘pack of lies’ and accused Dr Paes of deploying ‘bullying’ tactics, including ripping down a trellis in a ‘fit of rage’ when she didn’t get her way. 

Now, a judge has ruled against the couple, saying they had embarked upon an ‘ambitious attempt to seize land that did not belong to them’. 

The Paes had squared off in court with neighbours Thomas and Florence Benton, Robert Gilder and Althea D’Lima, and Mohammed Shaffi – who own houses on the same road in Tooting. 

The court heard the disputed strip of land runs behind their three houses and alongside the side wall and garden of the Paes’ property, which is around the corner. 

Although it had been used as garden space by the three sets of neighbours, as well as those who owned the houses before them, the Paes began to claim it was actually theirs from 2015. 

The case reached court last month, with each side claiming that historical documents backed their claim to own the strip of land. 

Dr Paes told the court her neighbours had ‘deprived us of access to our land’ by erecting fences in the wrong place and removing a gate she previously used to access the strip alongside her home. 

‘There used to be a big gap we could go along to maintain the wall, the issue for me came after July 2015 when we were blocked and didn’t have access,’ she said from the witness box. 

But for the neighbours, barrister James Sandham insisted the land was being correctly used as part of their gardens, in line with the historical evidence. 

HR executives Mr Gilder and Ms D’Lima only moved in in 2016, he said, but had been confronted with an already simmering boundary dispute as soon as they set foot on their property. 

They were quickly confronted with an allegation they were ‘encroaching’ on the Paes’ land, and later with claims of ‘criminal trespass,’ the barrister added. 

‘The correspondence escalated to the extent that the Metropolitan Police wrote to the defendants on Mr Gilder’s behalf, telling them that they could not damage the fence at [their house],’ Mr Sandham said. 

He told the court tensions with the Bentons boiled over in 2017 when Dr Paes tore down their trellis ‘in a fit of rage’, although she claimed it had already been falling down. 

Landlord Mr Shaffi had also received correspondence accusing him of encroachment, the barrister said. 

He told Dr Paes in the witness box: ‘When you don’t get your own way, you start writing letters and try bullying and coercing people into doing what you want.’ 

But she denied the allegation, claiming that she and her husband were the true victims. 

Both sides pointed to documents dating back to the 1890s to claim rightful ownership of the land. Dr and Mr Paes claimed that some of their neighbours had admitted privately that they were right. 

Architect Mr Benton called the claim ‘lies’ and Mr Gilder and Ms D’Lima both said there was no way they would have conceded they were wrong when they first moved in without seeing any evidence. 

Ruling on the case, Recorder Green said the evidence of both Dr and Mr Paes was ‘wholly unreliable’, with ‘glaring omissions’ of suitable evidence to back some of their claims. 

Some of the evidence they put forward, particularly in relation to meetings where neighbours were said to have admitted the boundary was in the wrong place, had been ‘embellished or fabricated’. 

He said some of it had been ‘simply concocted to try and establish concessions on the part of the claimants’. 

‘I find that the claim to the disputed land had been orchestrated and run by Dr Paes,’ he added. 

The judge found that, based on the Victorian documents, the disputed land belongs to the three sets of neighbours, and not Dr and Mr Paes. 

Applying for the Paes’ costs bill to be assessed on the punishing indemnity basis, Mr Sandham said it was they who had caused the needless court fight. 

‘We didn’t need to be here,’ he told the judge. ‘They concocted this and lied throughout, dragging this out for three years. 

‘They put everybody to enormous trouble just to try and get something over the line, based on a pack of lies.’ 

The judge ordered Dr and Mr Paes to pay their neighbours’ lawyers’ bills, which are estimated at £165,000, with £100,000 up front pending assessment of the total. 

They will also have to pay their own court bill, estimated to bring the total court bill above £200,000. 

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