Housing Executive tenant loses claim to ownership of seven-acre field

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A Housing Executive tenant has lost a High Court claim to legal ownership of a seven-acre field adjoining her Co Armagh home.

Margaret Ward was refused adverse possession by a judge who instead ruled the land belongs to St Patrick’s Archdiocesan Trust.

The dispute centred on a field close to two schools and a parochial house at St Martin’s Lane in Carnagat, Newry.

The Archdiocesan Trust went to court seeking an order for possession of the land as its registered owner, claiming Mrs Ward and her husband Patrick were occupying it without consent.

It was contended that the couple moved onto it last summer, removing a fence at the back of an adjacent Housing Executive property on Altnaveigh Park.

Mrs Ward stated she has been a tenant at that house since 2004, denying that her husband lives with her but was instead a “frequent visitor”.

She claimed title to the field on the basis that she has been in adverse possession of the land for more than the required 12 years. To support her case the court heard:

• She made a run for her dogs in the field shortly after moving into the property;

• She has kept ponies on the land from before 2004 to date;

• She has cleared rubbish from the field for the past 14 years;

• Trees were removed from the land after she made a complaint, with Mrs Ward filling the holes left behind;

• She and her husband carried out repairs to fences along the field’s boundary.

But the plaintiff trust strenuously denied Mrs Ward carried out any of the alleged acts.

Parish records from 2004 show that, due to travellers camping in the field and members of the public using it for motorbikes and quads, a committee agreed to fence and let the field.

In subsequent years the Trust paid for posts, a galvanised gate, chain and padlock the secure the plot, along with tree-cutting work behind the school.

Rejecting Mrs Ward’s claim for adverse possession, Madam Justice McBride ruled she had failed to show either occupation for at least 12 years, or proof of the alleged acts.

“When one looks at the photographs there is no evidence of a dog run, there is no cleared area and there is nothing to show the repairs carried out to the fences were in fact the fences of this field,” the judge held.

“A mere bald assertion without evidence in support is not usually sufficient to establish an arguable case.”

Instead, Madam Justice McBride confirmed the order for possession sought by the trust.