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Buyer stranded by 'obstacle in path': Solicitor sued over property transaction

NOEL SHERIDAN, 32, was pleased to complete the purchase of the flat he had found in a converted house in Shepherd's Bush, west London. It was reasonably quiet, close to shops, and handy for Queen's Park Rangers if he felt like watching football.

Holland Park was just up the road, and there were two Tube lines close by. The flat cost pounds 95,000 in 1990 - the height of the property boom.

Then, after he had moved in, he found a hidden catch which is every property-buyer's nightmare. He was the legal owner of the flat, but not the legal owner of the path to the back door.

He wasn't legally entitled to go in or out of it. He had thought he was legally entitled to get in and out of his new home across a piece of land at the rear, but then he found out that the land was privately owned. Legally he had no rights of access to the flat. Eventually he sold the flat for what he could get, a knock-down price of pounds 35,500. Mr Sheridan, who now lives at Northolt, west London, has issued a High Court writ against his former solicitor, Nicholas Bastian, who carried out the conveyancing.

He is suing him for pounds 68,746.76 - the money Mr Sheridan claims he is out of pocket as a result of having to sell the flat cheaply. Mr Bastian charged him pounds 700 for his work on the transaction.

Mr Sheridan also seeks damages for the anxiety and inconvenience he suffered, plus interest. Mr Bastian is contesting the case.

Where the ownership of an adjoining piece of land is unknown, it is possible to check with the Land Registry to find whose it is. If a right of way across someone else's land is being claimed as a historic right, it can be established (or not) in law before a transaction is completed.