Court battle after 'garden flooded 80 times'

Couple claim previous owners of £1.9m house failed to reveal facts
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The Independent Online

A financier who bought a £1.9m family home on the banks of the Thames is taking the previous owners to court, claiming they failed to warn him that the garden flooded as many as 80 times a year.

Adrian Howd and his wife, Caroline, claim that, before buying the house – named Tide's End – their solicitors had asked Bobby and Nicola Console-Verma's lawyers: "Given its position, please confirm that the property has never suffered from flooding."

The couple's lawyers responded: "Our clients confirm that the property has never suffered from flooding during their 14-year occupation."

Dr Howd and his wife argue that this response was untrue and fraudulent. However, the Console-Vermas' barrister Michael King insisted that the question was "ambiguous" and that they had reasonably taken the view that "property" meant "bricks and mortar", not the garden.

Having received the assurances, the Howds bought the house and moved in during October 2006. They said they were "deeply shocked" when, after only a few weeks, river water started to seep into the property's 140ft garden in Teddington, Middlesex.

"So far as I am concerned, they can have it back," Dr Howd told the High Court yesterday. He accused the former owners of "fraudulently misrepresenting" the truth. However, Mr King accused Dr Howd, who has a PhD in molecular neuroscience but works as a City analyst, of being "overly precious" and "freely alleging fraud whenever anyone disagrees with you".

The Console-Vermas deny any wrongdoing.

The Howds want the sale rescinded or to be awarded damages to reflect the fall in the property's value. "This has ruined, to some extent, our lives. Why should I take a financial loss because of the way other people have treated myself and my family?" Dr Howd asked the court. Mr Console-Verma, a financier, said the claims of flooding were exaggerated. He added that, after 14 years of living on the river bank, inundation of the garden was "a rarity" and that he did not think "the occasional high tide" amounted to "flooding".

He argued that there had been nothing ambiguous about his answer to the buyers' lawyers. By "property" he had meant "house", he insisted.

"To my mind, flooding relates to damage, destruction, homelessness even. That never happened at No 42 Twickenham Road and that's why we were emphatic in our answer," he added.

He also told the court that he thought photographs of the flooded garden which had been produced by the Howds were "sensational". He claimed that high tides only encroach on the garden on about 0.6 per cent of the days of the year, and only lasted about half an hour.

"I've lived by the Thames for 14 years and I don't regard tidal movements of the river as a flood," he said, adding: "You wouldn't have an insurance claim lodged every time the river came into the garden."

The hearing, which is expected to last all week, continues.