A couple who claimed their neighbor positioned a mannequin dummy to stare into their bedroom from his loft window have lost a High Court privacy battle.
Rosie Taylor-Davies, a costume designer, and her husband, Christopher, said they were forced to change behind a bookcase and live in “darkness” with the curtains drawn after their neighbour, Simon Cook, installed a Velux window facing their bedroom from his £1.5m home next door.
They told the court the window did not use frosted glass and “to add insult to injury”, Mr Cook, who is married with children, installed the blonde mannequin in the window to make it appear as though it was watching over their home.
At the High Court, a senior judge said it showed Mr Cook did not take his neighbours’ privacy concerns “seriously”, but ruled that he had not breached planning rules by installing an openable window with clear glass.
Mr Cook had applied for planning permission for the roof light and a dormer besides it as part of extensive works to his home in Dover House Road, close to Richmond Park, in 2019, the court heard.
It involved a roof extension with dormer windows on both sides and at the back, but Mr and Mrs Taylor-Davies objected to elements of the project, calling the windows an “invasion of their privacy”.
The Velux “directly overlooks our bed,” they said, claiming that they would be “overlooked day and night” on their top floor, where they sleep and shower, and Mrs Taylor-Davies studies for her PhD in embroidery.
In February 2020, the local council Wandsworth gave Mr Cook planning permission for his extension, but laid down conditions that the dormer window should have obscured glass and be non-opening.
However, council planning officers later waived those rules for the Velux, claiming it was unnecessary because it “faces the sky”.
Challenging the council’s decision not to take “enforcement action” to make Mr Cook obscure the roof light glass, their barrister Stephen Whale argued before High Court judge Mrs Justice Lang that the window had robbed them of their privacy.
The neighboring houses are on a slope so that Mr Cook’s is higher than theirs, Mr Whale argued, meaning that anyone looking out of the roof light would be able to see directly into the Taylor-Davies’ top floor, including a clear-sided shower box.
Mr Cook’s decision to install the mannequin “serves to give the impression, as presumably he intends, that there is a person at the window overlooking their property and invading their privacy,” Mr Whale told the court. “It only adds to their distress.”
He added there would be no loss of amenity to Mr Cook “were the Velux window to have opaque glass and be non-openable”, because the “only thing it overlooks is the top floor of the claimants’ house”.
Giving judgment, Mrs Justice Lang said Mr Cook had failed to take the Taylor-Davies’ privacy concerns seriously, but that there was nothing in the planning conditions forcing him to obscure the roof light’s glass. She noted that Mr Cook had added an “obscuring film” to part of the roof light, but that it could easily be removed.
Mr and Mrs Taylor-Davies, both New Zealanders, have lived in their home for 27 years – it is where their children were raised.
Speaking after the court hearing, Mr Taylor-Davies, a technical consultant and software designer, said the pair were considering moving. “We’ve lived here for more than 20 years, but we might have to move out because of all this,” he said.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.