Footpath battle could have caused stroke

Chris HillA retired company director said a 10-year legal battle to delete a right of way from his land has cost him �20,000 - and could have caused his recent stroke.Chris Hill

A retired company director said a 10-year legal battle to delete a right of way from his land has cost him �20,000 - and could have caused his recent stroke.

A public footpath is marked on Norfolk's 'definitive map' which passes within just one metre of Brian Aplin's living room window in Horningtoft, near Fakenham.

The 66-year-old believes an error was made when the maps were created in 1958, as the right of way did not exist on any previous documents.

The last appeal in his ongoing case was dismissed in March 2009 after an independent inspector agreed with Norfolk County Council's legal team that there was not enough evidence to prove any mistakes were made on the maps.

Mr Aplin said he believed the continued stress and expense of the campaign had affected his health and, in March, he was admitted to hospital with a mild stroke.

'When I was in hospital they said to me very clearly that they could not understand why it happened because I did not fit the profile,' he said. 'I was too young, too fit and too active to have a stroke.

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'I told them I had spent �20,000 on lawyers, which I can tell you is very stressful. I am pretty sure it was a large contributory factor.'

Mr Aplin was a managing director with an international services company before retiring to Norfolk with his wife, Monique, 10 years ago.

'I used to have 300 people reporting to me, so I know what stress is all about,' he said. 'But then you come against the intransigence of the council when you present them with what you think is incontrovertible evidence, and their reaction is: 'I'm sorry, that's not enough'.

'The problem is that the earlier records have been destroyed, so it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the process was flawed, so I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place.'

Reports by Norfolk County Council's legal officers agree that there was no sign of the disputed right of way before it appeared on the 1958 map. They also agree that its lack of use - with only one person reported to have used the footpath in the last 10 years - meant that no 'dedication through usage' could have developed.

After his health scare, Mr Aplin is now pursuing a diversion of the path - a compromise which will still cost �1,000 to process and will require the consent of countryside access groups.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said 'thousands have been expended on legal fees and officer time' to deal with Mr Aplin's applications, but refuted his claims that the authority had destroyed earlier maps.

'In reaching a decision we can only act on the available evidence,' he said.

'Throughout the years there hasn't been enough evidence to suggest that this right of way was added to the map by mistake and, as such, it remains on the map.

'It is a statutory duty for the council to investigate applications that we receive and reach a conclusion, and costs incurred in us doing so are therefore unavoidable.'

Last week, the EDP reported that former TV presenter Bryan McNerney is involved in a similar battle to convince the council that a footpath at his home in Banham was also incorrectly marked on the definitive map.