Think you’ve got potty neigh­bours? Try liv­ing next door to our lot!

A four-year row over a park­ing space has left the losers with a £200,000 bill. And the re­sult’s an even colder war in the cul- de-sac

The Mail on Sunday - - Comment - By Amy Oliver

FOR MOST peo­ple, colour­ful plant pots, gnomes and hu­mor­ous gar­den or­na­ments rep­re­sent lit­tle more than a good-na­tured at­tempt to brighten up a drab pa­tio.

But brick­layer Grant Short­land and his shop as­sis­tant part­ner Me­lanie Her­itage will for­ever see the bare back­side of a moon­ing gnome as some­thing al­to­gether more trou­bling – an en­emy weapon in a de­struc­tive four- year bat­tle with their next-door neigh­bours.

It is a bat­tle that cost them their health, their rep­u­ta­tion and al­most their san­ity and has left them liv­ing Som­er­set’s ver­sion of the Cold War.

For them, the cheeky trouser­less gnome and or­na­ments such as a 2ft wooden mush­room were part of a four-year cam­paign of ha­rass­ment – thanks to an ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­pute over a shared yard and drive­way, which re­sulted in hun­dreds of po­lice calls, emails and vis­its to their Som­er­set home, a base­less ac­cu­sa­tion of as­sault against Me­lanie and, for Grant, DNA swabs and im­pris­on­ment in a po­lice cell.

At one point, the po­lice even in­stalled CCTV in the dis­puted yard in an at­tempt to quell the war­fare.

It is some com­fort, of course, that last week a High Court judge ruled in their favour, con­clud­ing that their neigh­bours, mid­dle-class Christo­pher and Su­san Hill, had de­lib­er­ately placed the or­na­ments and pot plants, a bar­be­cue, chil­dren’s toys and a ta­ble and chairs to cause ‘max­i­mum in­con­ve­nience’. And it is a huge re­lief that it is the Hills who have been landed with the le­gal bill, es­ti­mated at up to £200,000.

But what­ever brief sat­is­fac­tion they might de­rive from the judg­ment, it is as noth­ing to the fear that the mis­ery of the past four years now threat­ens to be­come a wak­ing night­mare, as vic­tor and van­quished are forced to con­tinue liv­ing cheek by jowl. Nei­ther side, af­ter all, shows any sign of sell­ing up.

‘We still look down at the floor when­ever we see them in the yard,’ says Me­lanie. ‘Cross­ing it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. It’s very much a no-man’s land. At the mo­ment, we would be fear­ful of en­ter­ing into any con­ver­sa­tions with them for fear of reprisals. It will be a si­lent to-ing and fro-ing from now on, but even that’s a step up for us.

‘ We may just about be able to ac­knowl­edge their ex­is­tence in years to come, but there will al­ways be a bit­ter taste be­tween us. Would we ever be civil again? Never say never but I think that for them it would be like try­ing to swim the At­lantic. It’s a long way back, isn’t it?’

It’s cer­tainly not hard to see the prob­lem. Even when The Mail on Sun­day paid a visit to the bat­tle of the pot plants last week, some­one came to the Hills’ door and stared at us when­ever we ven­tured out into the yard.

So how did Bri­tain’s most toxic (and some would say petty) neigh­bour­hood feud be­come so cat­a­strophic for all in­volved? Grant Short­land could have had no inkling of the heartache and stress he was to suf­fer back in 2006 when he bought a ‘wreck’ above a bou­tique in Win­can­ton’s high street.

Ac­cess to the prop­erty was from the rear, with an agreed right of way across a gravel yard be­long­ing to the neigh­bour­ing house – which the Hills bought in 2009. At first the cou­ples were friendly but re­la­tions started cool­ing in May 2013 af­ter Grant had agreed to the build­ing of outer and in­ner gates on the yard to keep the Hills’ young daugh­ter safe.

He be­came frus­trated by the cou­ple’s in­sis­tence on clos­ing them even when their daugh­ter wasn’t out­side – which meant Grant and Me­lanie were ob­structed when­ever they tried to reach their own front door.

‘They used the in­ner gate like an Iron Cur­tain,’ Grant says.

‘I think Mr Hill would have liked us to have our pass­ports stamped ev­ery time we went through.’

Grant says the Hills also be­gan to leave ‘ob­sta­cles’ all over the yard, where he parked the car, mean­ing he had to move them ev­ery time he wanted to drive out. ‘The pots plants were four rows deep at one stage,’ Grant says. ‘They looked like guards stand­ing to at­ten­tion.’

Af­ter his re­quests for the ob­sta­cles to be re­moved were ig­nored, Grant posted a let­ter through the Hills’ door, where­upon things be­came a great deal more se­ri­ous.

‘Two hours af­ter­wards, there was a knock at my door from a po­lice of­fi­cer,’ Grant says. ‘ I was told I wasn’t to talk to Mr or Mrs Hill again. Any cor­re­spon­dence was to be done through solic­i­tors.’

From that mo­ment, Grant and Me­lanie say t hat what­ever t hey did re­sulted in texts, emails, calls and vis­its from the po­lice. As a re­sult, they be­gan film­ing them­selves on their mo­bile phones ev­ery time they left their home as ev­i­dence.

‘We would go out with our heads down, open the gates, move the pots, drive out and then put the pots back and close the gates. It was tak­ing us 10 min­utes. Imag­ine liv­ing with that for four years?’

‘It’s like you’re trapped within your own home,’ Me­lanie, 54, adds.

When it rained, pud­dles ap­peared in the yard, forc­ing the cou­ple to walk up the Hills’ path. ‘But then Mr Hill would put stuff on the path. You have to ne­go­ti­ate them or move them, but, if you move them, then you can be ac­cused of crim­i­nal dam­age.’

One fre­quent of­fender was a gnome in the act of pulling down his trousers. But the worst was a carved wooden mush­room, which Grant and

‘Grant was ar­rested – for drilling a hole’

Me­lanie were ac­cused of dam­ag­ing. ‘It would be laugh­able if it wasn’t so up­set­ting. We had to take pho­tos of this mush­room, where it was in po­si­tion and where bits had been taken off,’ Me­lanie says. Grant says the sit­u­a­tion be­came so fraught that he and Me­lanie took to email­ing their po­lice li­ai­son of­fi­cer be­fore leav­ing the house.

‘I’d say, “I’m go­ing to move the ta­ble in 15 min­utes be­cause I’m go­ing out”. He would email back and say “thanks for let­ting me know”.’ Then, in Au­gust 2014, Grant was ar­rested – for drilling a hole. As he ex­plains, the outer gate had started to swing shut, so he de­cided to put a screw and hook into a wall of an­other neigh­bour­ing prop­erty – not the Hills’ – to se­cure it.

‘I cleared it with the per­son who owned the wall. I drilled a hole and put the hook in,’ Grant says.

‘When I came back in the evening, i t was re­moved and t he hole ce­mented up. Next morn­ing, I redrilled the hole. This hap­pened ev­ery day for a week.’

On the Fri­day, PC Katie Maun came to his door and ar­rested him. Grant was hauled off to the sta­tion and thrown in a cell af­ter hav­ing his fin­ger­prints and DNA taken. ‘They locked the cell door, as if I was a crim­i­nal,’ Grant says.

‘The WPC said: “Why have you been fix­ing screws to Mr and Mrs Hill’s wall?” I told her it wasn’t their wall. Her face dropped.’

Grant was even­tu­ally re­leased with­out charge. Fol­low­ing a sub­se­quent in­ter­nal po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he was is­sued with a grov­el­ling apol­ogy. There was plenty more to come – such as the time Mr Hill ac­cused Me­lanie of as­sault and ha­rass­ment at the Co-op su­per­mar­ket where she worked.

‘Mr Hill lit­er­ally picked up a loaf of bread, paid and left. It was on CCTV,’ Me­lanie re­calls. ‘The next day, my man­ager called to say Mr Hill had re­ported that I had barged into him on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and ver­bally abused him and that he was go­ing to the po­lice.’

The fol­low­ing day, Grant was ac­cused of driv­ing at Mr Hill. ‘Again, Mr Hill was told not to exag- ger­ate by po­lice,’ Grant says. He adds that he feels the po­lice were bi­ased against him be­cause he is a burly, s haven- headed man­ual worker and his ac­cusers are mid­dle-class pro­fes­sion­als.

‘The Hills are teach­ers. We’re a brick­layer and a shop worker,’ he says. ‘Their house is lovely. Ours is not. I’m an over­size man and, well, a busi­ness part­ner of mine used to say to peo­ple, “You need to go and find Grant, he’s the one who looks ag­gres­sive.” But I’m not. I sob at soppy movies. But the po­lice viewed us as the prob­lem and acted like the Hills’ pri­vate army, sent to ha­rass us at all hours for com­plaints as ridicu­lous as mov­ing their wheelie bin.’

They say the stress of the last four years has been im­mense. ‘I used to be a lot thin­ner,’ Grant says. ‘We’ve both piled weight on from com­fort eat­ing. The Hills ap­pear ex­tremely nice, pleas­ant and al­most overly agree­able. But any rea­son­able per­son would say they’re bloody potty.’

‘There’s a part of me that feels very sorry for the Hills be­cause we’re hu­man be­ings,’ he adds.

Not that the Hills quite see it like that, of course. Sci­ence teacher Christo­pher, 42, and dance teacher Su­san, 37, told The Mail on Sun­day that they do not wish to en­gage in a ‘slang­ing match’. They did, how­ever, say the case had taken a ter­ri­ble toll on them and on their eight-year-old daugh­ter.

They said that Grant and Me­lanie of­ten called the po­lice them­selves and that their car was of­ten parked where it shouldn’t have been.

There is just one thing on which both sides of the wall agree, and that is the use­less­ness of the po­lice, who spent count­less hours ring­ing, writ­ing, email­ing and vis­it­ing both sides of the dis­pute – more than 200 ‘in­ter­ven­tions’ – with­out a sin­gle crime hav­ing been com­mit­ted.

In his rul­ing, judge Paul Matthews sug­gested the Hills had been at­tempt­ing to boost the value of their home by get­ting rid of the right of way across the land, com­ment­ing that Mr Hill had a ‘strong sense of en­ti­tle­ment’.

Avon and Som­er­set Con­stab­u­lary said they were un­able to com­ment.

The court rul­ing means the Hills must per­mit Grant to drive across the yard and now have to ask Grant and Me­lanie’s per­mis­sion be­fore putting any pots out, though the judge said he hoped Grant would be mag­nan­i­mous.

‘It would be a shame if the yard were sud­denly to be­come de­void of colour and of life,’ said the judge. ‘But it is a mat­ter for him.’

‘The po­lice acted like the Hills’ pri­vate army’

FOUR-YEAR OR­DEAL: Brick­layer Grant Short­land and his part­ner Me­lanie

COURT RUL­ING: The neigh­bours, teach­ers Christo­pher and Su­san Hill, and (left) the dis­puted yard area

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