Feathers fly in Harrogate stately home owner’s court battle with neighbours

An aerial image of Winsley Hurst Hall, near Harrogate. (Google Maps)
An aerial image of Winsley Hurst Hall, near Harrogate. (Google Maps)
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A frozen food magnate who carried out a lavish renovation of his Yorkshire stately home is embroiled in a court battle with his neighbours after clearing an area of nearby foliage used for a pheasant shoot.

Jason Fuller, 47, bought run-down Winsley Hurst Hall, near Harrogate, last year and has since spent large sums of money restoring it.

The grant of an injunction will have a stifling and intimidating effect upon Mr Fuller which is simply not justified on the evidence.

Judge David Hodge QC

But he says he and his partner have been “taunted” with a campaign of harassment after he ruffled neighbours’ feathers by removing foliage on prime shooting land.

Diana Kitzing, who has shooting rights on land coming right up to the edge of Mr Fuller’s rolling lawn and ditch boundary, known as a ‘ha-ha’, denies the accusation.

She says the business tycoon has caused irreparable harm to the shoot by “denuding” woodland, leaving a “killing ground” where game birds are easy prey for hawks.

And her lawyers claim Mr Fuller has even used two petrol-driven leaf blowers, creating a “wall of sound” which drives pheasants away the day before her shooting parties.

Mrs Kitzing’s family have lived in the village of Burnt Yates for generations and she was one of the estate trustees from whom he bought the sprawling Victorian mansion.

Mr Fuller is joint boss of his 130-year-old family business, Leeds-based Fuller Foods International, and is believed to be worth more than £20 million.

Mrs Kitzing, whose son Mark manages the shoot and lives on the estate, has taken Mr Fuller to court, demanding an injunction barring him from interfering with her sporting rights.

But he claims he and his partner, Katy Van Pugh, “have been the subject of a campaign of harassment by Mrs Kitzing, her son Mark, and to a lesser extent Mr Kitzing’s wife, Bethany”.

He says they are driven by “some kind of jealousy or animosity” and that the Kitzings are determined to interfere in the management of his own estate and make him “defer” to them.

Matters have got so bad, he claims, that he and Miss Van Pugh, have considered selling up and leaving, despite the vast sum spent on restoring the hall to its former glory.

His harassment claims are, however, dismissed by the Kitzings, who have accused Mr Fuller of “razing” woodland ground cover, giving pheasants nowhere to hide.

Laurels, rhododendrons and trees have been lopped or scrubbed up, leaving game birds at the mercy of hovering raptors, Judge David Hodge QC was told.

But Mr Fuller insists he has caused no harm to the shoot, and that he he has sensibly managed his estate by clearing dense vegetation, allowing the woodland to breathe and regenerate.

The businessman says he has received “supportive comments” about his renovation of the hall, even from two of Mrs Kitzing’s sisters, Pamela Holden and Patricia Clauson.

But Mark Kitzing’s “sole comment” was that he had “no objections with what he has done to his house”, the court was told, and his mother said that Mrs Holden was “being polite”.

The shoot is held on around 15 autumn and winter days a year by Mrs Kitzing, her family and friends, and by a number of local residents, the High Court heard.

The Kitzings say they have every right to complain about Mr Fuller’s ground cover clearance work and its impact on the shoot.

But he claims to have suffered “close to a hundred” acts of harassment at the Kitzings’ hands since buying the hall in February last year.

Miss Van Pugh had to visit a doctor with “stress-related symptoms” due to their - and specifically Mark Kitzing’s - behaviour, Mr Fuller told the court.

She had been “so affected by the Kitzing family’s campaign of harassment that she has suggested they just sell the property and move elsewhere”, he added.

But the judge said Mr Fuller is “adamant that they should not be forced out of a home they love because of the actions of the Kitzing family.”

The businessman said he was convinced the Kitzings’ decision to take him on in court was “no more than a further attempt to intimidate and harass him”.

The injunction was being sought “not to prevent actual serious damage to rights, but as a weapon to taunt him”, claimed Mr Fuller.

“It is said to be the latest manifestation of a long-running campaign of harassment, nuisance and distress”, added the judge.

Mr Fuller says he has shown full consideration for the shoot and allegations that he has acted maliciously are “patently absurd”.

Describing Mark Kitzing’s behaviour as “thoroughly obstructive and unhelpful”, he says allegations that he deliberately interfered with Mrs Kitzing’s sporting rights are “absolutely false”.

His estate manager, Robin Hardcastle, said his impression was that Mr Kitzing “had nothing better to do than hang around Mr Fuller’s property, trying to make his life a misery”.

All the businessman was trying to do was to “restore a neglected, dark and overgrown woodland into a beautiful, healthy, natural” state in which wildlife would flourish.

However, Mr Kitzing and his mother deny all the accusations and say the “huge amount of clearance” has ridden roughshod over her shooting rights.

The case reached court as Mrs Kitzing, a teacher, sought a wide-ranging court order barring Mr Fuller from activities which might interfere with the shoot.

Judge Hodge accepted that there was “just about a seriously arguable case” that her sporting rights had been interfered with.

But he said he had no reason to disbelieve Mr Fuller’s evidence that the clearance work was now largely complete.

Refusing Mrs Kitzing’s application, he added: “The terms of the injunction sought would be oppressive to Mr Fuller.

“They would leave him not knowing what he could or could not do on his land and would leave him with a sword of Damocles over his head”.

That, he added, could be “wielded by someone who ...is not well disposed towards either Mr Fuller or his occupation and enjoyment of his considerable residential estate”.

Judge Hodge emphasised that he was “making no findings” about the merits of Mr Fuller’s harassment and intimidation claims.

But the businessman did have “genuine concerns” that an injunction would “stifle” his right to enjoy an estate “for which he has paid a considerable sum of money”.

The judge said there was “no genuine need” for an injunction as there was “no present threat” of further clearance work being carried out.

He concluded: “The grant of an injunction will have a stifling and intimidating effect upon Mr Fuller which is simply not justified on the evidence”.