The Legal Story
After the 4th failed attempt to visit and inspect Waiouru we concluded our relationship with Ben Harp Narrowboat Builders had irreversibly broken down and we were probably being defrauded of our savings. It was time to call in the lawyers to protect our interests. Our situation was precarious. We had packed our personal and household effects, placing them into storage. Our house had been placed on the rental market and we had moved 2000km across Australia to a temporary location in anticipation of our impending flights to the UK. It wasn’t the best time to be entering a legal fight. But we were determined not to be cheated out of our hard earned savings.
As part of our strategy to find a UK based law firm we contacted a boat builder who suggested a legal firm who specialised in marine law. The company was Lester Aldridge (LA-Law) and the had been involved in the Ed Rimmer case. This advice proved to be invaluable as LA-Law was able to offer a strategy that significantly reduced the amount of time it would have ordinarily taken to get the case before a court. If anyone has a legal problem involving a boat we can recommend LA-Law.
The advised strategy was to avoid the usual civil district courts. As our dispute involved a boat they recommended we take our case directly to the Admiralty Court at the Royal Courts of Justice. Effectively we were taking our little narrowboat dispute to one of the highest courts in the UK. This would accelerate the timeframe to achieve a hearing. If we went to a conventional district court we would probably still be waiting for a hearing date. Timing was essential as we assumed Ben Harp Narrowboat Builders would be up to some nefarious activities…… and we were right!
Our legal team lodged our claim with the High Court (£450 fee please). Of course all the information also has to be given to the Defendants (Ben & Kelly Harp). So throughout the legal process we were required to declare all the information supporting our case whereas Ben Harp provided us with nothing. Effectively we were fighting with one hand tied behind our back. Interestingly Ben Harp Narrowboat Builders informed our solicitors they were appointing their own solicitors… They never did and nor did they ever appear in court to defend themselves against our claims. In hindsight these appear to be delaying tactics. So we incurred all the legal and other expenses (in excess of £25,000) whereas they incurred no expenses!
Our solicitor suggested we offer to settle out of court by offering Ben Harp Narrowboat Builders £10,000 to give us our boat. At that time we had paid Ben Harp Narrowboat Builders £81,000. We saw no reason to reward them with another £10,000 for a boat with an estimated value of approximately £40-45,000. Moreover we informed the solicitor that; like sharks; if Ben Harp Narrowboat Builders tasted blood in the water they would demand more. Eventually we authorised an offer of £5000. This was primarily done to prove to the court we had attempted to mediate. As we anticipated; the Harps responded with a demand for a further £20,000 plus a confidentially clause. THAT’S RIGHT…. they wanted us to pay them a total of £101,000 for our boat with an estimated value at the time of £40-45,000. I informed the solicitor we weren’t negotiating. They could accept the £5000 or we would continue with the legal action.
When the Harp’s phoned the solicitor back they stated “Had we decided to be reasonable now!” and pay the demanded £20,000. You know the answer!
On the 14th July the High Court Judge in the Admiralty Court, London heard our case and issued three orders.
1. Our surveyor was to be given access to the boat within 7 days
2. We were to be given possession of the boat within 14 days
3. Ben Harp Narrowboat Builders had 7 days in which to lodge an appeal against the decision (ie, by 21 July).
Late that same afternoon the Harp’s sent an email to our solicitor advising they had already sold our boat on 20 June 2011 and that the boat at their compound in Hixon was another boat. Our barrister immediately started proceedings to obtain a new order which required the Harp’s to provide the name of the purchaser, invoice, bill of sale, etc On Saturday the high Court Judge issued the new order which included the requirement to provide us with this information. Well they never did! The order also prevented the boat being moved or interfered with and gave us access to the boat for the purpose of identifying it.
However the Harp’s had made one serious error. They claimed the boat was sold on 20 June! But they had contacted our solicitor the following day, on 21 June, offering to release the boat to us for £20,000. So they still had the boat on the 21st. Moreover, the contract required us to be involved in the sale of the boat with the first offer to purchase going to us. Just one more breach of the contract from the Harp’s.
The Harp’s ignored the latest order claiming it wasn’t legal because it wasn’t sealed (High Court Stamp [seal] on it). Of course there was no seal on it… it was the weekend! However that didn’t make it invalid.
By Monday we had a copy of the order with the seal on it delivered to Ben Harp Narrowboat Builders. Not only did they ignore it but the professional Document Server was assaulted during the delivery. Work continued on the boat in defiance of the court orders.
By Thursday 21st Jul the legal team was back in the Admiralty Court for yet another hearing. Again Ben Harp Narrowboat Builders didn’t bother to attend.
This time the Judge gave us orders covering everything we wanted.
1. The right to enter the compound and everything in it… using force if necessary
2. The right for ourselves and Tim Tyler of Wilson-Tyler to inspect and identify the boat.
3. The right for the police to accompany us into the compound to ensure there was no breach of the peace.
4. The right to take the boat if it was identified as ours.
We implemented this order on the morning of Monday 25th July seizing and removing Waiouru
Selecting a good law firm who specialised in marine law was critical to gaining possession of Waiouru.
next – Assault and Intimidation