Wednesday 26 November 2014

Stately home tenant loses squatters' claim to castle

Tim Healy

Published 22/03/2014 | 02:30

Main: Castle Hacket in Belclare, Tuam, Co Galway; top inset, landowner Mairead Ni Nionain and bottom inset, failed ‘squatter’ Philip Jones, both pictured outside court yesterday
Main: Castle Hacket in Belclare, Tuam, Co Galway; top inset, landowner Mairead Ni Nionain and bottom inset, failed ‘squatter’ Philip Jones, both pictured outside court yesterday

THE High Court has rejected a man's claims he had squatters' rights to a ruined 13th Century castle.

Philip Jones, who lives in the stately home next to the ruins of Castle Hacket in Belclare, Tuam, Co Galway, yesterday failed in trying to overturn a Circuit Court decision that the castle and the three-quarter acre site belongs to Mairead Ni Nionain's company Culburnie Ltd.

Yesterday, Ms Justice Iseult O'Malley said Culburnie had proved it was sufficiently in possession throughout the 15-year period during which Mr Jones claimed he was in occupation of the Co Galway property. He had failed to prove he enjoyed continuous and consistent possession for at least 12 years to give him a legal entitlement to adverse possession, or squatters' rights.

The judge awarded the costs against Mr Jones, who said the order would "ruin me and put me out of business".

Mr Jones, who represented himself, had told the court he leases Castle Hacket House, a stately home built to replace Castle Hacket which was last inhabited in 1703.

Mr Jones said he was the agent for a Jersey-registered company, Cavaliera Ltd, which bought the house from Ms Ni Nionain's company in 1993 and he has lived there as a tenant of Cavaliera since.

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He accepted the castle and land were not included in that sale but said Ms Ni Nionain's company was not active for several years and it was not restored to the companies register until 2009 when the property was put up for sale.

It was only then his occupancy was challenged, he said.

He had grazed livestock on the land and also rented it out to film companies as a backdrop. In June 2012, Galway Circuit Court granted a declaration that Mr Jones has no right, title or interest in the property and also granted injunctions restraining him from trespass.

He appealed to the High Court which yesterday affirmed the Circuit Court order.

Ms Justice O'Malley said Mr Jones had almost from day one decided to seek adverse possession over the old castle.

Previous cases had established that the slightest of acts by the owners was sufficient to prove they had not been dispossessed, she said.

In this case, it included the fact that Ms Ni Nionain, who lived in the UK since 1995, visited the property three times a year, instructed agents to look after it for her and also instructed an auctioneer to put it up for sale in 2004 and 2009.

One of her agents told the court he put up "no trespassing" signs, and later "danger" signs when a crack developed in the wall of the castle.

He also put padlocks on the gate and had to change them when they were removed by someone who also put on their own locks.

The agents had seen no grazing by livestock, she said. While Mr Jones may have grazed animals from time to time, it was not of sufficient regularity to be noticed by anybody.

She also rejected Mr Jones's argument that the fact that Culburnie was not active for a number of years meant it could not have given instructions on looking after the property.

When the company was restored by court order in 2009 to the companies register, this meant the company was effectively never struck off, she said.

Earlier, Patrick Shevlin – Ms Ni Nionain's agent who said he looked after her properties in Ireland after she left in 1995 – said he had given permission for certain people to camp on the property but had to tell others, including two separate groups of foreign tourists, not to do so because they were trespassing.

Raymond Kelly, who played in the castle as a child, said everyone in the area knew Ms Ni Nionain owned it and he was "as shocked as everyone else when you (Jones) laid claim to it".

Mr Kelly denied having ill-will towards Mr Jones because his (Kelly's) brother had been prosecuted for illegal dumping on the land.

David Newman Johnson, retired inspector of national monuments with the OPW who was called by Mr Jones, told the court the castle was in a very bad state of repair and had not been attended to for years.

Irish Independent

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