Scots family’s six-year ‘hellish’ battle to evict squatter who refused to leave land

A Cummertrees woman has spoken of her family’s six-year legal battle to evict a man who set up home on their land.

Grace Hyslop told the Standard of their relief at the end of a “hellish” order.

Tenant Malcolm Priestley was originally given permission to stay in a caravan on a site at Newfield Plantation at Cocklicks Farm for six months.

But at the end of that period he decided to remain and the land owners started legal action to evict him.

Ms Hyslop and her partner Edward Marshall finally managed to remove him from the site after a lengthy and costly court fight.

Grace Hyslop told of a ‘hellish’ ordeal

She said: “This has been an absolute nightmare believe me. It’s been so horrible to deal with, it’s been hellish.

“There’s not just a financial cost there’s a mental one as well. It’s been exhausting mentally and physically.”

Mr Priestley, a dog breeder, set up kennels on the land and that sparked complaints from neighbors and Ruthwell Community Council.

At one point, the land owners were threatened with legal action by the council for an unauthorized change of use of the site, the erection of dog kennels and the siting of a residential caravan.

Ruthwell Community Council complained to the local authority about the situation and expressed concern about the “large number of dogs running about the site with warning signs ‘they bite’ on the gate”.

And it suggested that the area at Newfield became a no-go zone for people looking to enjoy a walk or cycle due to the animals running loose around the woodlands.

At one point there may have been as many as 53 dogs at the site.

Ms Hylsop, 64, said: “People stopped going by because they weren’t sure what they’d be met with. Sometimes the dogs were just let out so people just avoided the area.

“I used to go there and sit by the water’s edge and relax. But you never knew if you’d be met by the dogs running about or him being abusive to you.”

She added: “We’ve been consumed with it for six years. We’ve spent thousands on legal fees throughout this process. We’ve lost out on money because we haven’t been able to put cattle on the land because he had around 50 dogs on the area too.

One of the collies is led away by an RSPCA officer on Tuesday afternoon

“We will need to spend a lot removing the kennels, shed and rubbish and making the land suitable for farming again.

“We’ve had to live through this every day. Neighbors were complaining about the noise and smell but we kept telling them we were doing our best to sort out the situation.

“It’s a nightmare when you think nobody will help you. It’s gone on for years.

“I’ve got letters to MPs, the council you name it – nobody would help.

“We feel as if we’ve been fighting this battle ourselves for six years and the law has been on his side not ours. The law is an ass – never have truer words been spoken.”

She added: “The council threatened to take us to court because he built a kennel and shed without permission. We stopped that by proving we were trying to get him off of our land.”

Mr Priestley and his wife were finally evicted by sheriff officers on Friday, April 8 in a process which lasted from 11.20am until 4.45pm.

The following Monday and Tuesday SSPCA officers visited the site to remove dozens of dogs kept in the kennels there.

The animal charity said it wouldn’t comment on an “ongoing situation” but confirmed there are no welfare concerns for the dogs which have been taken in to care.

The Standard tried to contact Mr Priestley for comment.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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