Ar­chi­tect gives free gar­den ad­vice to her neigh­bours, but they sue her for £300,000

The Mail on Sunday - - Tina Weaver - By Adam Luck

WHEN ar­chi­tect Ba­sia Le­jon­varn of­fered to help her neigh­bours trans­form the gar­den of their £5 mil­lion home for free, she thought she was do­ing them a favour.

But the of­fer sparked an ex­tra­or­di­nary five-year le­gal row in which Ba­sia was sued for £300,000; there were three sep­a­rate court hear­ings; and le­gal costs amounted to a stag­ger­ing £1 mil­lion.

Last week, the High Court ruled that Mrs Le­jon­varn was blame­less in the dis­pute with Peter and Lynn Burgess, who claimed that – far from lend­ing a help­ful hand – she had neg­li­gently project-man­aged and de­signed their gar­den.

Speak­ing for the first time since the judg­ment, Mrs Le­jon­varn says she be­lieves the ‘Kafkaesque’ case should act as a cau­tion­ary tale for any­one tempted to help a friend in need.

She told The Mail on Sun­day: ‘It has been hor­ren­dous. We have en­dured five years of le­gal tor­ture. I have faced pro­fes­sional and per­sonal ruin and my fam­ily has faced fi­nan­cial ruin. I did noth­ing wrong. All I did was of­fer a neigh­bour some ad­vice.

‘And now I have been com­pletely vin­di­cated by the court.’

In­deed, her neigh­bours’ claim lacked ‘cred­i­bil­ity and con­vic­tion’, ac­cord­ing to Judge Martin Bow­dery QC.

Mrs Le­jon­varn, 54, who qual­i­fied as an ar­chi­tect in the States, and her hus­band Ja­son, a fi­nancier, lived in an apart­ment whose gar­den over­looked the Burgesses’ sixbed­room, semi-de­tached Vic­to­rian house in af­flu­ent High­gate, North Lon­don. They be­came friendly, oc­ca­sion­ally so­cial­is­ing to­gether. Then, on Au­gust 5, 2012, the Le­jon­va­rns at­tended the Burgesses’ home for a party to watch the Lon­don Olympics.

There, Peter, 61, and Lynn Burgess, 60, un­veiled an imag­i­na­tive de­sign for a land­scape gar­den, with ter­races, paths, lawns and mood-lit flower beds.

The de­signer had quoted a price of £150,000, a sum the Burgesses thought was too steep. Mrs Le­jon­varn agreed and sug­gested the work should cost them £130,000. Fate­fully, she of­fered to help with the project free – be­liev­ing it could help raise her pro­file – and a team of Pol­ish con­trac­tors was hired to be­gin the job.

Soon, how­ever, the Burgesses were com­plain­ing about es­ca­lat­ing costs and their re­la­tion­ship with Ba­sia de­te­ri­o­rated. Then in Novem­ber 2013, the Le­jon­va­rns were shocked to learn they were be­ing sued to re­cover costs of more than £300,000 be­cause, ac­cord­ing to her neigh­bours, the gar­den work had gone cat­a­stroph­i­cally wrong.

Ba­sia says: ‘He had got lawyers on board ac­cus­ing me of be­ing re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing in the gar­den.’

In 2016, the case was heard in the High Court and, in a dev­as­tat­ing ver­dict for Ba­sia, she was deemed to be partly at fault.

Fac­ing ruin, Ba­sia took the case to the Court of Ap­peal, where it was ruled the orig­i­nal judge had over­stepped the mark and the case needed to be sent back to the High Court.

Af­ter last week’s judg­ment, Ba­sia said: ‘I would not wish this on my worst en­emy. For any pro­fes­sional think­ing of of­fer­ing ad­vice to friends, I would say: “Think again.” ’

The Burgesses did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

‘LE­GAL TOR­TURE’: The gar­den at the Burgesses’ £5 mil­lion home in High­gate, North Lon­don, be­fore and af­ter it was land­scaped. Be­low right: ar­chi­tect Ba­sia Le­jon­varn of­fered her ex­per­tise for free BE­FORE

AF­TER

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