Legal proceedings over the closure of the Quality Court pathway in Margate have concluded with Old Cottage pub owner David Gorton being found not guilty of charges of unlawful obstruction.
The footpath, which links the Market Street car park to the High Street and runs alongside The Old Cottage pub, had been closed for some six years and was the focus of contention during that time.
The pathway was reopened on July 30 last year following the completion of repair works carried out by Mr Gorton.
Mr Gorton says it was necessary for him to shut the route to carry out the repair works after the path began to collapse into his pub cellar below. Wrangles with the council and a dispute with Margate Town Team and some of the town’s traders followed with tensions rising over the closure.
Legal proceedings came before magistrates after Thanet council filed an application alleging that Mr Gorton had been obstructing the public highway.
Mr Gorton denied the charge saying the closure came after full consultation with the appropriate authorities.
There were further issues due to the fact there was no recorded ownership for the pathway. Although Thanet council has said the path is a public right of way because it has been in use for more than 20 years the authority previously admitted it is not officially designated as such despite an application being submitted in 2019.
Kent County Council also said the path was not recorded on the Definitive Map and Statement as a Public Right of Way. The path is not owned by Mr Gorton nor Thanet or Kent councils. The pathway needs to go through the county council process to be registered on the Definitive Map and Statement.
The case had been scheduled to go before magistrates in 2021 but was finally concluded this year on March 22-23.
The court found that although Mr Gorton had obstructed the highway from 2014 to July 2021 there was a lawful excuse for the obstruction and so he was found not guilty of the charge brought.
Following the case Mr Gorton said he believed proceedings had been prompted by a statement of complaint he sent to 35 councillors in August 2019 with an allegation concerning survey fee reimbursement claimed on all council properties being sold. Mr Gorton claims he took this route as he had no confidence in the usual complaints procedure which would lead to officers having “to investigate themselves.”
He added: “I will leave it to right thinking people to consider the reason I have been found “Not Guilty” of these criminal allegations, which I say was a personal, malicious prosecution, against me in my family name and not properly, acting against my limited company and, a prosecution obviously having no benefit or purpose other than to silence, blame and punish me for my allegations, long after the path repairs had been completed and reopened.
“Now, for the first time, the public can be given the full information and can make up their own minds about what this not guilty verdict really means. The council did not present this state of affairs to the court, but their ‘spiteful’ decision gave me the ideal opportunity to do so. I hope the council members will now take my complaints seriously. But, there is still a long way to go.
“If you ask me now when our business will open I can only laugh and say ‘when the council stops sitting on my planning applications for the business signs and lighting for the footpath they don’t own, so that I can light it for the safe use of the public, again at my own expense.’
“They validated that application well over a year ago and continue to (pass) the statutory deadline of eight weeks from then to make a decision. So we are not holding our breath and can only apologise to our patient friends for however long it might take for this council to sort itself out. As always, we must wait.”
Mr Gorton bought the Old Cottage pub when it appeared at auction on Homes Under the Hammer in 2009, paying £90,000 for the Grade II property.
The site has since been undergoing refurbishment but a social media post on The Old Cottage Pub facebook page last June said Mr Gorton intended to shut down the project due to the ‘exhaustion’ of trying to satisfy Thanet council and due to incidents of deliberate damage at his site.
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “Thanet District Council issued legal proceedings under the Highways Act 1980 for a determination of the status of the alleyway at 19 High Street, Margate and for Mr Gorton to clear the area and remove the blockage that was preventing access to a public car park.
“The case was originally scheduled to be heard in May 2021 but was adjourned to Tuesday 22 and Wednesday 23 March 2022.
“The court found that Mr Gorton had obstructed the highway from 2014 to July 2021 but that there was a lawful excuse for the obstruction.”
The court considered an application of costs against Thanet council under Section 19 of the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1985 which requires there to be an unnecessary or improper act or omission by the prosecutor and that costs have been incurred as a result of that act or omission.
No order for costs was made against the council. However, Mr Gorton’s costs will be paid from ‘central funds’ which come from the Ministry of Justice budget.