Mother who fled due to sectarian attacks loses property value case

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A mother and daughter who quit their homes amid repeated sectarian attacks have lost a legal challenge to the valuations of the properties.

Rosaleen and Annette Cooley issued High Court proceedings after a 25 per cent price deduction was imposed because both houses are located at an east Belfast interface.

That produced valuations of £41,000 and £40,000 for the Mountpottinger Road properties to be acquired by the Housing Exeutive through an initiative for intimidated owners.

Lawyers for the Cooleys argued that the Scheme for the Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings (SPED) assessment should ignore adverse security considerations.

But a judge backed alternative submissions that while any attacks are to be disregarded, the valuer must consider property locations as in a normal sales process.

Mr Justice Maguire said: “The court does not believe that it was any part of the purpose of the scheme to enable a beneficiary of the scheme to achieve a value for their dwelling greater than open market value.”

Rosaleen Cooley, 71, and her 52-year-old daughter endured years of criminal damage and abuse while living in an area blighted by disorder and violence.

Reported incidents involved stone and firework attacks as sectarian trouble raged around them.

With neither homeowner living there now, they applied to sell through SPED.

Initially their applications were turned down after the PSNI refused to issue Chief Constable’s Certificates required for the scheme.

Although it was accepted that they have been directly or specifically threatened or intimidated, police concluded in November 2011 they were not at risk of death or serious injury.

But following an earlier legal challenge senior judges quashed the PSNI’s decision.

They held that a proper analysis was not carried out into the risk created by an incident where a bullet was discovered in Annette Cooley’s hallway.

In that case the court heard SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell sent a letter to the Chief Constable describing how windows on Annette Cooley’s home were covered by steel grids and triple glazed for extra reinforcement against missile attacks.

Heavy drops bars were installed on the front door, although it had not been used for years because it was too risky, he wrote.

Dr McDonnell stated that the family and any guests remain in a back kitchen, with lights kept off at night to ensure would-be attackers are not alerted.

Fresh judicial review proceedings were launched over valuations of both houses carried out by Land and Property Services.

It was claimed that the assessment was inconsistent with a SPED provision that purchase prices are to be determined as though the sale were “without adverse security considerations”.

However, the judge held that the scheme’s assistance amounted to a state agency acquiring the property as if the process was at market value.

Dismissing the challenge, he confirmed: “The court is unable to discern any illegality in the approach taken in this case.”