A ‘townie’ couple who gave up their careers to retire to the Lake District say they are living in fear amid a legal battle with their neighbours over parking outside their house.
Former accountant Bridget Kelly, who retired to the 50-strong village of Rosgill in the Lake District with her partner Richard Wozniak six years ago, is now suing their neighbour for £40,000 in a libel battle.
Dr Wozniak, who was a private dentist in Fleet, Hampshire, retired to develop his passion for wildlife photography while Ms Kelly took up bell-ringing at a nearby church.
The couple toiled for months to transform Abbott House, which is believed to have cost around £300,000, from a dilapidated wreck into their dream home.
But within two years of moving into their three-bed cottage, they were at the centre of a community row over the public’s right to park and drive around a small triangular patch of grass and track in front of their house.
Former accountant Bridget Kelly (pictured), who retired to the 50-strong village of Rosgill in the Lake District with her partner Richard Wozniak six years ago, is now suing their neighbour for £40,000 in a libel battle
Neighbour and campaigner Chloe Randall insists the patch of grass – which the incoming couple say they own – is a ‘village green’ which residents of Rosgill and surrounding villages have been ‘accustomed to using…for hundreds of years.’
She went on to set up an online blog titled ‘Concerned of Rosgill’, on which the couple say she branded them ‘social pariahs’ and ‘townies’ and accused them of being ‘bullies and liars’.
Now Ms Kelly and her partner are suing their neighbour, claiming £40,000 libel damages over the blog, which they say ruined their standing locally and led to them being ostracised and left out of community events.
‘All we wanted – and still want – is to be left in peace to enjoy our property,’ Ms Kelly told High Court judge, Mr Justice Soole.
Neighbour and campaigner Chloe Randall insists the patch of grass (pictured) – which the incoming couple say they own – is a ‘village green’ which residents of Rosgill and surrounding villages have been ‘accustomed to using…for hundreds of years. Pictured: A screenshot from Ms Randall’s blog
But Ms Randall, an administrator and woollen tie maker, denies libel, accusing the couple in court of ‘years of harassment of members of the village and beyond’ in what she termed ‘The Battle for Rosgill Green’.
The court heard that Ms Kelly and Dr Wozniak previously lived in Hampshire, where Dr Wozniak had his private dental practice, before setting himself up as a wildlife photographer, venturing to remote areas of Africa to shoot exotic animals.
Following his retirement and with Ms Kelly, who had worked for Price Waterhouse Cooper before qualifying as an accountant, working part time, they sold up and eventually moved to Rosgill in 2015 to pursue their country dreams.
Ms Kelly told the court that they had only been in the north for a matter of months when friction began with campaigners over public use of the land the couple claim is theirs.
They were accused of having ‘colonised’ the ‘green’ and endured a number of incidents including people mowing the patch, blocking their access, and driving a 4×4 over it, she told Mr Justice Soole.
Ms Kelly added that she and her partner were also told they ‘would be dealt with by ‘community law’ and that we would not be made welcome in the community’.
The bad feeling over the ‘green’ came to a head with Ms Randall’s online blog, set up in 2017, on which the couple claim she posted a series of nine libellous posts in 2019.
Ms Randall (pictured) went on to set up an online blog titled ‘Concerned of Rosgill’, on which the couple say she branded them ‘social pariahs’ and ‘townies’ and accused them of being ‘bullies and liars’
One posting refers to ‘townies’ turning the countryside into a ‘retirement park’ and suggests that the couple did not understand the alleged long use of the patch as a community space.
Suing, Dr Wozniak and Ms Kelly say they were accused online of stealing land, ‘brainwashing’ a vulnerable local into their camp, acting like ‘liars, thieves and bullies’ and ‘spitefully’ attempting to block the track.
And they say the offending posts unjustly branded them ‘social pariahs in Rosgill’ – although they still have friends there – as well as labelling them ‘hypocrites and idiots’.
Both say the posts took a devastating toll on their reputations and enjoyment of life in the quiet village which they had thought would be a haven for them.
‘The defamatory statements posted by Ms Randall have made me personally feel humiliated, embarrassed and harassed to the extent that they have actually ruined my life,’ said Ms Kelly.
‘Abbott House was very much our ‘dream home’ but the activities of Ms Randall have made me feel like a prisoner in my own house.
‘At times I have been too frightened to go outside for fear that Ms Randall or one of her supporters might be there.
‘Whereas I was once eager to engage in community activities, I now think twice before joining in for fear that other attenders have seen the comments made about us, and view us in a negative light.’
Ms Kelly says that, although they claim ownership of the patch of grass, they were always happy to share use of the track, and never intended to fall out with anyone.
Pictured: Ms Randall’s blog Concerned of Rosgill
But Ms Randall denies libel and says the ‘Concerned of Rosgill’ blog developed in tandem with her efforts to have the track alongside the green designated a public bridleway and to boost the campaign in ‘the battle for Rosgill Green’.
She says the area has been used by the whole community for generations and ‘is widely known as Rosgill Village Green’, telling the judge: ‘The village has for hundreds of years been accustomed to using this piece of ground…for access, farming, leisure and commercial purposes.’
At the time the blog was set up, she was pursuing a right of way application with the local council, which ultimately led to the track alongside the green being declared a bridleway, she said.
She had intended the blog to ‘remind the community of the lengths to which the claimants have demonstrated that they are prepared to go in pursuit of their determination to have exclusive use of the disputed ground.’
‘Various individuals and bodies tried to explain the historic use of the land, but the claimants seem unable to accept that any activity of any sort has ever taken place in Rosgill prior to their arrival,’ she added.
She said the couple’s exclusion from parts of village life – including not being invited to a local councillor’s Christmas party – were nothing to do with the blog posts.
‘Richard and Bridget’s extraordinary campaign has led to their exclusion from a number of village events, hence the comment that they are social pariahs,’ she said.
Dr Wozniak and Ms Kelly had made repeated efforts to block access to the track and grass patch, which provide a convenient turning circle for villagers, she claimed.
She also claimed in court the couple had installed CCTV, reshaped the track, spooked cattle, and tried to ‘criminalise the reputations of so many in the community’.
The trial continues.