Into the legal maze While the wheels of justice turn, life goes on at Holtsfield.
Right from the beginning in April 1990, Tim Jones of Elitestone has claimed that the Holtsfield residents had no legal rights whatsoever to remain on the land, given that they had only held ‘licences’ with the previous owners to be renewed or not renewed at the owners’ discretion.
As a result, the residents received a series of letters from Elitestone, asking them to leave their homes and surrender the keys to Elitestone. Demands for large sums of money were made by Elitestone. Sometimes, letters were delivered by hand late in the evening, deeply frightening and upsetting especially to the older residents.
Offers were made and equally quickly withdrawn. Residents were told that they had no right of access to Holtsfield. Many attempts were made by the wouldbe developers to give Holtsfield a ‘bad name’ and tarnish the reputation of the residents. Other parcels of land, surrounding Holtsfield were bought by Elitestone and fenced. Villagers from the wider community, who had used many of the footpaths for many years, were stopped in an evergrowing atmosphere of threat and intimidation.
Through their solicitor, the Holtsfield residents have claimed that as well as common rights (by virtue of having lived there for such a long time), they do actually have tenants’ rights: the ‘licences’ which had been regularly granted by the previous owners being in effect tenancies.
In April 1991, the first summonses for possession of land were delivered to the residents.
Some of the residents were fortunate enough to qualify for legal aid, but those who did not had to go through some intense soulsearching. However, the residents decided to stand together and continue the fight for their homes.
An extended phase of hearings, claims and counterclaims, delays and fruitless negotiations followed.
It was not until September 1992, that the parties managed to agree that all residents fall into one of five different categories in terms of how long they have been living on Holtsfield, whether they are owner/occupiers or subtenants etc. From each of these categories one ‘lead case’ was chosen to be dealt with in court. The result of each of these lead cases would then also determine all other cases within the same category.
More delays, unsuccessful talks and attempts by Elitestone to turn the public opinion against Holtsfield followed.
On Monday, June 27, 1994, the hearings into the five lead cases commenced at Swansea County Court and continued for seven days.
Due to administrative problems and the difficulty of the case itself, judgment was deferred until November. Not with standing that and expecting to win the cases and clearly in an attempt to unsettle the community even further, Elitestone issued new Notices to Quit to all the residents on September 23.
On November 7, 1994, the court reconvened to hear the judgment. It is an indication of the complexity of the case that the judge’s dictated statement occupies 95 pages. In brief, the residents lost four of the five cases.
This was not at all as devastating as it initially sounded, when one considers that the one successfully defended lead case actually represented the majority of the total 27 cases.
Both sides appealed against the county court judgment and, in July 1995, a very severe blow was delivered to the residents when the Court of Appeal considered the lead case of Mr. Dai Morris, the warden of Bishop’s Wood Nature Reserve, who has lived on Holtsfield since 1967. The Appeal Court overturned the judgment that his chalet was indeed a proper dwelling house with tenant’s rights and upheld Elitestone’s claim that all chalets were temporary, ‘mobile’ structures not fixed to the land.
In other words in the legal sense the chalets were chattels and not permanent homes. In making this judgment, the London court, far removed from Swansea, was not allowed to view videos made of Holtsfield, or look at photographs or consider visual documentation such as this booklet. It is hardly surprising that they were only able to come to a decision so outoftouch with the reality of life at Holtsfield.
As a last resort the residents applied for leave to appeal to the House of Lords.