"you start writing letters and try bullying and coercing people"
A millionaire doctor has been handed a £200,000 court bill after “orchestrating” an “ambitious” land grab on her three neighbours’ back gardens.
Dr Veena Paes and her finance boss husband Melanius got into a bitter row with neighbours – Thomas and Florence Benton, Robert Gilder and Althea D’Lima, and Mohammed Shaffi – who own houses on the corner of Bickersteth Road, Tooting.
They disputed over who owns a strip of land that runs behind their three houses and alongside the side wall and garden of the Paes’ property.
It had been used as a garden space by the three sets of neighbours.
But in 2015, Dr Paes and her husband began to claim that the land was actually theirs.
Dr Paes claimed her neighbours had “deprived us of access to our land” by erecting fences in the wrong place and removing a gate she previously used to access the strip alongside her £1 million house.
She said: “There used to be a big gap we could go along to maintain the wall, the issue for me came after July 2015 when we were blocked and didn’t have access.”
But James Sandham, representing the neighbours, said the land was being correctly used as part of their gardens, in line with the historical evidence.
Mr Gilder and Ms D’Lima moved into their home in 2016 and straight away, they were confronted with the boundary dispute.
Mr Sandham said they were accused of “encroaching” on the Paes’ land, later facing claims of “criminal trespass”.
The barrister added: “The correspondence escalated to the extent that the Metropolitan Police wrote to the defendants on Mr Gilder’s behalf, telling them that they could not damage the fence at [their house].”
Tensions with the Bentons boiled over in 2017 when Dr Paes tore down their trellis “in a fit of rage”. But she claimed it had already been falling down.
Landlord Mr Shaffi had also received correspondence accusing him of encroachment.
In the witness box, Mr Shaffi told Dr Paes:
“When you don’t get your own way, you start writing letters and try bullying and coercing people into doing what you want.”
She denied the allegation, claiming she and her husband were the true victims.
Both sides pointed to documents dating back to the 1890s to claim rightful ownership of the land, and the Paes claimed that some of their neighbours had admitted privately that they were right.
Mr Benton called the claim “lies” and Mr Gilder and Ms D’Lima both said there was no way they would have conceded they were wrong when they first moved in, as they had not seen any evidence.
Recorder Green said the Paes’ evidence was “wholly unreliable” with “glaring omissions” of suitable evidence.
He said: “It strikes me as far more credible that the witnesses for the claimants were being truthful in saying they never conceded that the land in question belonged to the defendants.
“I consider that the defendants have embarked on a deliberate course of conduct to obtain land that wasn’t rightly theirs.”
Recorder Green said the case ended up in court partly due to “an ambitious attempt to seize land not belonging to them by the defendants”.
He added: “I find that the claim to the disputed land had been orchestrated and run by Dr Paes.”
Based on the Victorian documents, the judge said the disputed land belongs to the three sets of neighbours, not the Paes.
Mr Sandham told the judge that the Paes had caused the needless court battle. He said:
“We didn’t need to be here.
“They concocted this and lied throughout, dragging this out for three years.”
“They put everybody to enormous trouble just to try and get something over the line, based on a pack of lies.”
The judge ordered Dr and Mr Paes to pay their neighbours’ lawyers’ bills, which are estimated at £165,000, with £100,000 up front pending assessment of the total.
They will also have to pay their own substantial court bills and lawyers estimate that the total cost to the couple will be considerably more than £200,000.