Neighbour wins libel action over campaign of abuse

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The Independent Online
The war of Wootton Road ended yesterday with Raymond Ward winning pounds 1,000 libel damages from his next-door neighbour Alan Kingston.

Mr Ward and his wife, Audrey, were "quietly pleased" with the judge's ruling that former used-car dealer Mr King-ston was responsible for a poster campaign which labelled the retired businessman a liar, fraud and conman, their solicitor Anthony Abrahams said after the case.

Sir Michael Davies dismissed a similar claim brought by Mr Ward, 66, who has lived in Kempston, Bedfordshire, for 30 years, against Mr Kingston's wife, Irene, 49.

But he said he was satisfied that Mr Kingston, 48, who moved next door to the Wards in May 1992, had participated in a campaign against Mr Ward, either by fixing up the posters himself or by getting someone else to do so.

He said the circumstantial evidence was "overwhelming" and rejected Mr Kingston's claim that Mr Ward had himself put up the notices.

He dismissed a counter-claim of harassment brought by the Kingstons against the Wards, saying there was not a scrap of evidence to support the couple's claim that Mr Ward had been behind the disappearance of their Jack Russell terrier, Sid, or the sending of unsolicited mail to Scottish-born Mrs Kingston from Scottish Widows assurance. Any other trivial acts of "unneighbourliness" did not amount to nuisance or harassment.

He ordered Mr Kingston to pay Mr Ward's costs, and both Kingstons to pay the costs of the counterclaim.

Mr Kingston, who is now unemployed, said he might have to sell his house to meet the bill, which is estimated at more than pounds 20,000. "I've received an offer of pounds 100,000, but I don't think the Wards will like them either," he said.

The judge described the feud as a "commonplace straightforward village dispute". A row over a boundary fence had escalated when Mr Ward complained to the council over the number of cars - up to 10 - parked next door.

This led to the council serving enforcement notices on Mr Kingston and an eventual prosecution for non-compliance.

Mr Kingston, said by the judge to be "very peeved" that his means of livelihood had been cut off, began a campaign of sticking posters on grass verges, inside car windows, on lamp-posts and telegraph poles, and outside the village post office, which only ceased when the Wards obtained a High Court injunction last September.

Mr Ward told the court that at one point Mr Kingston was bound over to keep the peace for assaulting himself and his wife, and for threatening to dig up the remains of their son, who was killed in a car crash in 1979.

Mr Kingston said in evidence that Mr Ward told him he played golf with the high sheriff of Bedfordshire and was friendly with the chief constable. He said it was perfectly plain he was considered "common". He claimed that Mr Ward wanted to take over his life, arranging his garden and fixing him up with a window cleaner.

Assessing damages, the judge said there had been no attempt to justify the libel, no financial loss to Mr Ward and the publication was limited. It was true that Mr Ward was hurt by the libels but it was an exaggeration to say that his life had been ruined. "One has to have a degree of fortitude," he commented.