British couple win appeal to save Cyprus holiday home

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The Independent Online

A British couple whose dream holiday home has become a symbol of the bitter tensions that continue to divide Greek and Turkish Cyprus won a temporary reprieve yesterday when the High Court ruled the property was safe from demolition.

Linda and David Orams, who spent their life savings on a villa in northern Cyprus four years ago, were told they had successfully appealed against an attempt by the original Greek Cypriot landowner to reclaim the land.

Mr Justice Jack, who ruled that an order made last year by a Nicosia court to tear down the home was unenforcable in Britain, said the appeals had "an importance which extends far beyond the parties to them".

The judgment came as a relief to thousands of British property owners in Turkish Cyprus, who had feared a negative ruling would put their properties at risk. It was also a welcome victory for Cherie Booth, QC, the Prime Minister's wife, whose appointment last year as the couple's defence lawyer sparked outrage among Greek Cypriots.

Speaking during the hearing in July, Ms Booth said the Orams had been "caught up in what remains... a conflict of the two communities". Yesterday, a statement issued on behalf of the couple said the judgment was a "total vindication" of their position.

The couple had claimed that they risked losing their home in Hove, Sussex, if the ruling had gone against them.

Yesterday's ruling was a significant step towards the resolution of the fiercely fought legal battle which has brought the Cyprus problem back into the international spotlight.

The case began in 2004 when Meletios Apostolides, a Nicosia-based architect who lived on the land until his family fled during the 1974 invasion, visited the internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and saw his family home in the village of Lapithos had been torn down and a two-storey villa erected in its place.

Just a year after they had moved in, the couple were served with a claim by Mr Apostolides demanding they forfeit the land. A Cypriot court ordered the Orams to demolish their villa, return the land and pay him damages. Mr Apostolides's lawyers used EU legislation to apply to the High Court in London to enforce the Nicosia court's ruling.

The High Court's ruling, however, said that because the Republic of Cyprus's EU accession treaty stipulates that the TRNC is outside Nicosia's "effective control" the court order was unenforcable in any member state.

"It was clear from the beginning that this dispute should never have come to this court. It is an international matter," said Ms Booth. The judge, despite granting Mr Apostolides the right to appeal, ordered him to pay 75 per cent of the Orams' £863,000 costs, with an interim payment of £150,000.