The High Court has rejected an appeal against an injunction designed to protect a solicitor told to “mind your own fucking business, you little twat” when visiting a contested right of way from further abuse.
Mr Justice Sweeting said the words and actions aimed at Jeremy Tennyson, a partner at Cumbrian firm Hart Jackson & Sons, were “threatening” and had stopped the claimants from seeing their legal adviser.
The High Court heard that the claimants, George and Ioana Plater, had a right of way over Piggy Lane in two directions to two entrances to their house.
He said that Mr Tennyson “sought to visit” them in September 2021, and came across John Ellison, co-defendant in the case, near the entrance to Piggy Lane.
“There was a verbal exchange which, according to his evidence, left Mr Tennyson intimidated and scared. He left without being able to see his client.”
The trial judge at Barrow-in-Furness County Court, His Honour Judge Dodd, said the incident was captured on CCTV and the words recorded by Mr Tennyson on his mobile phone.
HHJ Dodd said, in his factual findings, that there was “some brief conversation during which Mr Ellison approached and walked towards Mr Tennyson and stood, it seemed to me, very close to him”.
Mr Tennyson “as part of the exchange, said words to the effect, ‘And you are?’ asking Mr Ellison to identify himself”.
HHJ Dodd said Mr Ellison’s “response was to say this: ‘Mind your own fucking business, you little twat,’ and shortly thereafter, ‘I could kill you now’. There is no more conversation on the audio file. The video file shows that after the exchange Mr Tennyson walked swiftly away”.
HHJ Dodd granted the claimants an injunction stating that the defendants, Mr Ellison and the company Linemile Properties, shall not “abuse, harass, assault, threaten, physically approach, position themselves within 10 yards of or speak directly” to Mr Tennyson or anyone else working for Hart Brown.
The protection extended to “any expert or other person who has been or is engaged by or on behalf of the claimants to assist them with these proceedings”.
The defendants appealed, claiming the judge had erred in law by granting an interim injunction as “a freestanding remedy concerning individuals not party to these proceedings”.
However, Sweeting J said HHJ Dodd’s ruling was not “a synthetic exercise to disguise an injunction for the benefit of a third party which was otherwise unobtainable by that party” and the judge “took care to limit the relief to that which was necessary in the context of the claim”.
HHJ Dodd was “well placed” to decide whether Mr Ellison’s conduct was “potentially disruptive to the litigation if repeated” and it was likely to be necessary for solicitors and experts to visit the site. “He was familiar with the case and able to take the temperature of the dispute.”
Sweeting J went on: “Although the judge acknowledged that Mr Ellison did not recognise Mr Tennyson, there was no plausible explanation for the recorded exchange other than that Mr Ellison knew or suspected that Mr Tennyson, a visitor wearing a suit and tie on a day when a meeting had been planned but cancelled, was a solicitor visiting the respondents.
“The word ‘clients’ can be clearly heard in the tape-recorded conversation. As the judge found, the words and actions of Mr Ellison were threatening and could not be shrugged off as a normal reaction or a turn of phrase in common use.”
Dismissing the appeal, Sweeting J added: “The judge was exercising the court’s power to guard its own processes and do justice by regulating the conduct of a party before it, over whom it had jurisdiction.”