A ‘creepy’ and ‘vindictive’ gardener has been ordered to pay £250,000 to her wasp-allergic neighbour who sued her over a tree dropping rotten apples into her Surrey garden.
Antoinette Williams acted like a ‘school bully’ and displayed ‘disgraceful’ behaviour towards Barbara Pilcher after the neighbours clashed over a 40-foot Bramley apple tree.
Mrs Williams moved into her £600,000 cottage, in Dunsfold, near Godalming, almost 40 years ago, while Mrs Pilcher bought the adjoining three-bedroom £500,000 cottage in 2010.
Mrs Pilcher sued her neighbour after the tree dumped rotting apples onto her lawn each season, bringing swathes of wasps attracted to the fruit.
Antoinette Williams (left) and Barbara Pilcher (right) outside Central London County Court following a five-day trial that resulted in Mrs Williams being ordered to pay £250,000 after a judge ruled against her over a tree dropping fruit into Mrs Pilcher’s garden
The back garden of Mrs Pilcher’s home, which she claimed was repeatedly covered in rotten fruit from a tree overhanging from Mrs Williams’ garden
However, what followed was a campaign of targeted harassment in which Mrs Williams repeatedly stared at her neighbour through a window, failed to prune the apple tree and kept a large smelly compost bin at the bottom of her own garden.
Following a five-day trial at Central London County Court, Judge Lawrence Cohen QC ruled in favour of Mrs Pilcher and ordered Mrs Williams to pay costs and damages amounting to around £250,000 on Wednesday.
The neighbours first clashed in 2014 when fruit from the tree began falling over the fence and Mrs Williams refused to cut it back.
The court heard that Mrs Pilcher had been unable to use the bottom of her garden and was made to feel ‘like a prisoner in her own home’.
Aerial footage of the houses owned by Mrs Pilcher and Mrs Williams, which form the right side half of the block of grey-roofed houses which can be seen in the centre of the picture
Her barrister, Oliver Newman, also told the court that family members had stopped visiting the home because of the escalating feud with her neighbour.
Mr Newman told the court: ‘Upon Mrs Williams’ refusal to cut the tree back, Mrs Pilcher exercised her right to do so in June 2014, which resulted in a barrage of allegations from Mrs Williams that she had cut the tree at an inappropriate time, cut it back too far and had caused a poor harvest.’
‘Due to this and Mrs Williams’ other behaviour which upset Mrs Pilcher and led her to fear confrontation, she subsequently felt unable to exercise her rights for fear of Mrs Williams’ reaction.
The adjoining homes of feuding neighbours Mrs Williams and Mrs Pilcher in Dunsfold, near Godalming, Surrey
‘Mrs Pilcher has as a result been left unable to use the bottom of her garden due to the smell from rotting apples and the composters, the fear of falling apples and the fear of wasps, having been hospitalised in 2018 after being stung multiple times by wasps from a nearby wasps’ nest.’
She claimed damages for alleged nuisance over the apples, but Judge Cohen said this particular issue had been resolved during the course of the trial after Mrs Williams ‘agreed to have the tree professionally pruned’.
However, he awarded Mrs Pilcher £12,000 in compensation for seven years of harassment that left her ‘dreading coming home’.
The harassment included Mrs Williams repeatedly peering through Mrs Pilcher’s windows, ‘monitoring’ her comings and goings and even following her relatives after they had visited.
One of Mrs Pilcher’s daughters told of how Mrs Williams trailed her mother outside when she took her granddaughter to a nearby playground.
Mrs Williams, a member of the Dunsfold and Hascombe Horticultural Society, denied the allegations and accused Mrs Pilcher of having mental health problems.
However, Judge Cohen branded her behaviour as ‘completely abnormal and disturbing’.
He added that Mrs Williams had also become fixated with the idea that her neighbour was blocking her parking rights and, in an incident in January 2015, produced a camera and tape measure to record the space taken up by Mrs Pilcher’s vehicle.
The adjoining homes of warring neighbours Barbara Pilcher (centre) and Antoinette Williams (right) in Dunsfold, Surrey
Later the same day, she drove her car over the verge of Mrs Pilcher’s home, churning up her grass, in an incident caught on CCTV.
She denied pestering her neighbour with the parking antics and claimed Mrs Pilcher had given her the middle-finger when she reasonably complained about her parking space being obstructed.
Judge Cohen, though, rejected the claims and described the incident as ‘disgraceful’ vandalism.
He said the parking incident provided a ‘valuable insight’ into Mrs Williams’ character.
Passing his ruling, the judge added: ‘There is strong evidence of Mrs Williams behaving in a vindictive way towards Mrs Pilcher deliberately to alarm and distress her and that she is lacking in self control.
‘I have not found Mrs Williams to be a reliable witness.
‘She [Mrs Pilcher] dreads coming home, her daughter does not want to stay with her anymore and other young family members either do not want to visit her or, if they are brought to visit, need to be sheltered from the offensive conduct.’
Mrs Pilcher was awarded £12,000 for the harassment, while Mrs Williams was ordered to pay costs estimated to be between £135,000 and £180,000 towards her legal fees, on top of her own lawyers’ bills of more than £100,000.
Judge Cohen rejected a claim from Mrs Pilcher that Mrs Williams had been negligent in dealing with a damp issue she claimed had caused damage to her property.