Tuesday 20 February 2018

Owner of John Huston’s former mansion takes neighbour to court with claims of intimidation

Enda and Ian Quinn
Enda and Ian Quinn
David Corbett

Tim Healy

THE new owner of the former Galway home of late film-maker John Huston claims he has been subjected to a campaign intimidation and harassment by a neighbour in a dispute over land boundaries.

The High Court ordered neighbour David Corbett today to remove allegedly defamatory signs which Ian Quinn says he can see from his new home at St Clerans House, Craughwell.

St Clerans was owned by Huston from 1954 to 1971 and, after changing hands a number of times, was bought in 1997 by American actor and chat show host Merv Griffin, who converted it into a hotel which closed in 2008.

Earlier this year, the 12,000 square foot manor house and adjoining 43 acres was bought by Mr Quinn, chairman of medical devices company Creganna, for use as a family home.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy told Mr Corbett that unless he removes signs stating "Photography of Children Prohibited", from the neighbouring Corbett family property by 4pm tomorrow he would have to come back before her to face possible committal to prison for contempt of court.

Mr Corbett claimed he had erected the signs because Mr Quinn and his associates had been "hiding in the bushes" taking photographs of his family, including of his eight-year-old son.

Mr Quinn insisted he had never taken any photos of children but had taken pictures of the signs "for the record".

He claimed the signs were libellous by innuendo and had prompted questions from visitors to his new home, including from tradespeople brought in to carry out work on the property.

Earlier this year, Mr Quinn, his wife Enda and their company St Clerans House Ltd, sought a High Court injunction against David Corbett and his parents, Thomas and Margaret Corbett, seeking to prevent interference with the Quinns' enjoyment of their property.

Seamus O Tuathail SC, for the Quinns and the company, said the interference began with locks being cut on gates and boundary fences being changed and eventually moved on to a death threat being made against Mr Quinn by David Corbett's brother Oliver Corbett.

Last month, the Corbetts consented in court to non interference orders but in the last week or so, a campaign of intimidation began with the "no photography of children signs" being erected, he said. Despite promises they would be removed, they remained up, counsel said.

As a result, they were seeking an order for attachment and committal of Mr Corbett and his parents to prison for contempt.

Mr Corbett, who said he was unable to pay for counsel and represented himself, said he had been forced to put up the signs because Mr Quinn had been taking photos of his son and his wife who had had to draw the blinds in their home. He had contacted the gardai about it.

"We are living the life of hell," he said.

The family, who had lived there for 27 years, had been friendly with the Quinns initially. Later Mr Quinn started asking if they (Corbetts) would be interested in selling some of their property, he said.

Mr Quinn had brought in machinery and dug up wires and put in part of a new road surface without any consultation. The Quinns had access to their home from the north driveway which leads to the properties while the Corbetts owned the south driveway, he said.

Mr Quinn told the court he had not built a new road but had repaired a track which had been damaged because he had to bring in machinery to repair a bridge leading to the property.

He strongly denied ever taking any pictures of any child and when a garda spoke to him about it, he offered to show all his photographs but the offer was declined. He had asked visitors not to come to his home because he "did not want to increase the libel damage already done."

Ms Justice Laffoy said she didn't know "if King Solomon could resolve this matter" but she urged the parties to sit down with legal advisers and sort out the land ownership issues.

She believed the terms of the previous court order could cause difficulty of interpretation in relation to the signs and was therefore ordering specifically that Mr Corbett remove all the signs and that neither he nor his parents could re-erect them or similar.

She adjourned the case to January.

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