Residents of a major housing development in the Co Antrim village of Maghaberry have been left “distressed and upset” after receiving letters claiming there are “title issues” affecting the land on which their homes are built.
The land at Wellington Parks – the site of around 400 residential properties – is part of a long-running dispute between the Boyes family and the government over the ownership of the site and other lands in the area.
The family, and the ET Boyes Trust Settlement 1960, claim their land was taken illegally – a claim which has been disputed and is still the subject of a complex legal wrangle.
Last weekend, hundreds of homeowners in the area received letters from ET Boyes Trust Settlement 1960 informing them “of the title issues affecting the lands on which your property is situated”.
The letters outline the history of the dispute over ownership of the lands, which dates back to 1975 when they were vested by the government for construction of Maghaberry Prison, and points out that High Court writs have been issued against a number of parties as the trust members seek compensation.
The letter asks that residents give the trust details of their bank and/or solicitor and urges them to seek legal advice to “establish if your mortgage is valid”.
Wellington Park Avenue resident Douglas Booth said the letters had caused “a lot of upset and distress” for people living in the area, particularly older people.
“I moved into my home on July 2 and was somewhat alarmed and distressed that I initially thought there was a chance of losing my home. But after a few inquiries and speaking to a solicitor I realised the letter is fit for nothing but the bin. However, there are elderly and vulnerable people in the community to which these letters would cause a lot of upset and distress,” Mr Booth said.
Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he had been contacted by a number of Maghaberry residents who were “understandably very concerned” after receiving the letter.
He said it was “highly regrettable” that the trust’s letter had caused “undue worry and concern for hundreds of local residents on the basis of entirely unproven and unsubstantiated claims”.
The DUP representative has since drawn up his own letter which he has circulated to local residents.
“Whilst you may wish to consult your solicitor in regard to the letter received from the Boyes Trust, I do not believe that you are obliged to provide them with any information concerning your personal data and I would strongly recommend that you do not share your personal bank or solicitors details with the Boyes family without first obtaining legal advice,” his letter states.
Speaking on behalf of the trustees, Stephen Boyes insisted their correspondence was “an explanatory letter”.
“It was not designed to annoy residents. It was designed to inform them about what the issues are. We exhausted every other avenue before we decided to write to the residents,” he said.
Claiming that all the relevant institutions including government departments, banks and the courts are aware of the dispute over the ownership of the land, Mr Boyes said the letters were sent out to “clarify the situation with the homeowners” after “at least half a dozen residents” raised the issue with trust members.