How has Clarkson caused offence this time? With a fence...
The Top Gear presenter is at war with neighbours over ancient rights of way bordering his Isle of Man home. Tom Peck on a six-year feud
Friday 01 April 2011
Barbed wire, dead sheep, militant dog walkers and Jeremy Clarkson. Together these elements form the biggest brouhaha on the otherwise tranquil Isle of Man since the days when a young Nigel Mansell patrolled the cliff tops in his Special Constable's uniform.
The news that wire fencing and gate posts have been uprooted from the perimeter of Jeremy Clarkson's holiday home on the Langness Peninsula, and unceremoniously hurled into the sea, is merely the latest agitation in a lengthy battle that has pitched the Isle of Man's rambling community against the Top Gear presenter – a man not celebrated for his love of walking.
"Mindless bloody idiots," is what Mr Clarkson's wife, Frances, has branded those who uprooted the fence, who remain at large.
The row centres on a 230-metre stretch of footpath past the Clarkson's estate, which the couple have on several occasions attempted to fence off since they purchased the holiday home in 2005.
Some claim the footpath is a public right of way. Enter Prowl, or "Public Rights of Way – Langness", a pressure group on the island who have campaigned for access to the pathway to be reopened, affording passers-by an unrestricted view into the Clarkson kitchen and, as the presenter has complained, the opportunity to "actually see me standing in my garden and point at me".
It may be that the opportunity to do just that is in fact boosting tourism on the island. Ian Costain, a spokesman for Prowl, said: "If he weren't such a key personality the matter would have been solved some years ago, but some people are uncertain about upsetting him."
Upset, however, he most certainly is. "The whole point of buying a house on the end of a peninsula is so that you get five minutes not being bothered. When you are in the public eye it's very easy to be portrayed as a villain. Actually, in this case, I'm not," Mr Clarkson said in 2008.
The couple released a statement yesterday which said: "We have been shocked and greatly saddened by the recent acts of criminal damage on our land. Whoever ripped up the fence posts and gate protecting the cliff edge ... clearly had no thought for the safety of others.
"We don't want to comment on the ongoing court case. But we would say to those who have again targeted our home at beautiful Langness: please, just stop this right now."
Last year, an inquiry concluded that the presenter had been wrong to reroute the footpath. Despite not being a legal right of way, previous landowners had historically granted "permissive rights" to walkers. It was during the course of this inquiry that Mr Clarkson branded Prowl and its supporters "very unpleasant militant dog walkers" who thought they had "a god-given right to trample on somebody's garden wherever they want".
Mrs Clarkson said the couple were appealing against the ruling. But according to Prowl, the case is open and closed, and its impending day in the High Court merely concerns the publication of the new definitive map of footpaths. "As the deemster [Manx for judge] concluded at the time, 'there will be no second bite at the evidential cherry'," the group said.
A police spokesperson, however, said that "no final decisions in relation to access rights have currently been made." A spokseman for the Clarksons also said the matter remains before the High Court.
Should the footpath be reopened it might also be bad news for the Langness Peninsula's unfortunate sheep, some of which Mr Clarkson claims have been chased into the sea by unleashed dogs.
Should the High Court force the Clarksons to reopen the footpath, Mr Costain says the presenter will have to "take down the barbed wire and replace the kissing gates that were removed".
However, Mr Clarkson has promised to sell the property if he is forced to remove the fencing and gates, and many on the island would be sorry to see him go. "There are plenty of people here who have a lot of time for him, and who would take his side," Mr Costain says.
Other celebrity land disputes
* The torching of a pleasure boat belonging to Cameron Mackintosh in February marked a flamboyant escalation in a 13-year dispute over land rights on the theatre impresario's 14,000-acre estate in the Scottish Highlands. Mr Mackintosh wants to build holiday homes and a woodland project on a 25-acre sliver of the property, but one of his elderly tenants, an 87-year-old crofter, uses the land for grazing animals. "I may have been in dispute with the man, but I have not been burning his boat," the tenant said.
* Two prize stags were shot dead and left on the doorstep of entrepreneur and restaurateur Richard Caring's private Exmoor lodge, a few weeks before someone took a pot shot at the letterbox of Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones.
* Film director Guy Ritchie recently had his £6m Fitzroy Square home in London taken over by squatters. "Legal warning. Take notice... that we live in this house, it is our home and we intend to stay here," the group, who called themselves The Really Free School, posted in a note on the door. Despite taking their case to court, they were evicted after four days.
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