A disputed land case involving an English lord and a Donegal estate has begun.
John Gerald Strutt, the 6th Baron Rayleigh of Terling Place, is suing Fanad man Jack Green for failing to leave a small area of the Mulroy Estate near Carrigart, which Mr Strutt inherited from his uncle Hedley Vickers Strutt in 2012. Mr Green is claiming adverse possession of the parcel of land, stating he had been using the area known locally as “the Quays” for almost 40 years. The disputed land comprises a yard, a pier, and two sheds once used for exporting potatoes and importing coal.
The case began at Buncrana Circuit Court yesterday, and is expected to last two-three days.
In his opening statement, Mr Declan McHugh BL, for Mr Strutt, explained Mr Green had been one of a small number of people who the late Hedley Strutt had allowed to live on the estate’s residential properties rent-free. He had referred to these residents as “the Mulroy community.”
Mr Green moved into Ivy Cottage on the estate in 1975, before moving to Ivy Lodge close to the Quays in 1976 where he lived until 1985. He also began running an engineering business on the Quays in 1977, which he still runs today.
After that he moved off the estate, building his own home on his own land, however he continued to run his business on the Quays. His son continued to reside in Ivy Lodge until 2001.
Caretaker agreements were drawn up in relation to the residents, and it was acknowledged that Hedley Strutt was the owner of the estate. When the residents would move on the properties would be handed back to the estate.
The court heard that Mr Green had a caretaker agreement regarding the residential properties he had lived in, and he’d had no difficulty giving up these properties when he decided it was time to move on. However, he never had a written agreement regarding his use of the Quays.
Hedley Strutt died in 2012 at the age of 97. In the years leading up to his death he suffered two falls and his physical health declined, however he remained mentally alert.
Mr Strutt, who lives in Essex, had visited the estate several times a year while growing up, however after his uncle became less physically able he began visiting more frequently.
Mr Strutt, knowing he was to inherit the estate, eventually took full control of his uncle’s commercial affairs from 2010 onwards.
In his evidence to the court, he said he became concerned that a number of people using the estate did not have proper written agreements with his uncle, including Mr Green. He explained the reason his uncle did not have written agreements with these individuals was because he trusted them implicitly.
Mr Strutt said his uncle had been “old fashioned” in the running of the estate, and he wanted to modernise his affairs and regulate matters in relation to the Quays.
In October 2010 he met with Mr Green to discuss the issue of a written licence, however Mr Green insisted he “was happy with how things were.”
Mr Strutt claimed that following that meeting a gate was erected by Mr Green which prevented vehicular access to the Quays. Mr Peter Nolan BL, for Mr Green, said his client had erected the gate prior to that meeting.
Mr Strutt said he had a second meeting with Mr Green the following year, which was mostly “friendly and amicable” as he and Mr Green spent time recalling old memories of the estate, but which became “uncomfortable towards the end” after Mr Green told him “not to forget history.”
Mr Strutt said a draft licence was drawn up following this, which included a clause stating Mr Green could use the potato shed at the Quays for life. He said Mr Green was also told he could amend anything in the licence within reason.
When Mr Green did not sign the licence a legal letter was sent to him stating he had four weeks to vacate the site.
Hedley Strutt then received a letter, four days before his death in March 2012, from Mr Green’s solicitors stating he wouldn’t be vacating the site. In the letter it stated he had uninterrupted possession of the site for over 30 years and as such had acquired propriety rights.
In cross-examination Mr Nolan put it to Mr Strutt that members of the local community would regularly gain permission to use the Quays from Mr Green. He pointed to examples such as the local boxing club and the fire service who used the site’s yard, and to others who would request permission from Mr Green to store their vehicles and equipment on site. Mr Stutt said he was unaware of this activity.
Mr Gerry Gallagher, who lived and worked near the estate, also gave evidence yesterday in which he stated he had used the quays for recreational purposes as a child.
He recalled a potato-exporting business which operated from the site in the 1950s and 1960s, and said that in the 1980s he anchored his boat at the pier along with other men in the area.
He said after his purchased his “half decker” boat in the 1980s he used the Quays as a base, and in more recent years had requested permission from Hedley Strutt to use the site as a location for a scallop nursery.
He was told he would be unable to do this due to the gate erected by Mr Green.
Mr Nolan put it to Mr Gallagher that he was colluding with the Strutt family as he wished the Greens to be “put off the land” so he could use it for his own purposes. Mr Gallagher denied this.
The case continues today.
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