An 83-year-old chartered surveyor has vowed to continue a squatting campaign that has landed him in court twice, even if he loses his liberty.
Frederick Edward Smith, known as Ted, was this week convicted of harassing a female neighbour in his efforts to claim ownership of Spider Alley, between former fishermen’s cottages near Seahouses harbour.
He was also found guilty of damaging and attempting to damage gas bottles belonging to the neighbour in North Street, Margaret Claydon. He had denied all three.
Smith was convicted at Berwick Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday after a two-day trial described by District Judge Stephen Earl as ‘fraught’.
When Mrs Claydon bought her flat in 1998 she was registered as owner at the Land Registry. With it came one of four sheds that enclose one end of the alley and also a shed in a former netty, across the alley from her door.
Smith, of 45 North Street, considers himself the owner of the alley and her sheds, though this has been rejected in court by the Land Registry.
He has continued to pursue a claim of adverse possession, in which a squatter gains ownership by controlling a piece of land for years.
The court heard he had cut off Mrs Claydon’s only heating – the gas bottles – last December, forcing her to endure a cold night.
She had gone on holiday to recover from the upset, but while she was away, he tried to put the bottles out of action again by encasing the controls in concrete. Her daughter Alison, a teacher, hit him in the face during a scuffle as she tried to protect her mother’s heating.
On another occasion he took away scores of potted plants Mrs Claydon had used to create a garden in the alley.
He told the judge that if convicted of harassment, he would appeal. “Subject to that appeal, if adverse, I will continue to maintain my access into my own property, fully recognising that the law in this matter might for one reason or another force me to do otherwise. I will therefore continue as I have been at the moment to exercise my rights.”
He went on: “I will continue to go into custody if my human right is going to be taken away from me in this manner and I will fully accept the consequences of that action.”
The judge adjourned sentence until August 1 for a probation report and said the maximum penalty would be a high community order.
A restraining order to prevent harassment will be considered at the same time. Judge Earl told him: “I do not expect to hear that there are further incidents before the first of August.”
Smith was convicted in 2006 of harassment and criminal damage, which was allowed to be revealed during the trial.
He said the block had been owned by Archbold family, but had fallen into dereliction after a fire in which a tenant died. He bought 41 and 45 from the family in 1956 and sold 41 in 1960. Later he acquired 43A for his mother. He had been in adverse possession since 1961.
Prosecutor Alan Turner said: “I think you’ve already admitted that your conduct amounted to harassment of Mrs Claydon?” He replied: “It would be as long as she stays in my property, and I’ll keep doing it.”
The judge asked him: “What did you think would happen to Mrs Claydon’s heating system?” Smith replied: “I was absolutely thrilled to bits about it.”
“You have cut off her heating on the 8th of December,” the judge said.
Smith replied: “Absolutely. I’ve sat there for years with this toxic thing. It was dreadful...There could have been an almighty explosion.” He had written to the local gas supplier, demanding the bottles’ removal.
After the January incident involving her daughter, she had told him he was a wicked old man and he had said: “Oh, I am, I am wicked.”
She said: “He just never gives up and he seems to enjoy it really, to enjoy bullying me, threatening to do things.”
“It’s been going on for 10 years or so...I’m always worried about it.” But she said: “I’ve always wished we could be friends.”