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Developer wants to build housing on land at West Musgrave Farm, St Helen Auckland
As one lengthy legal battle involving Raymond and Paul Shepherd comes to an end, another over the potentially lucrative ownership of the family farm continues. STUART ARNOLD reports.
TO local residents West Musgrave Farm, in St Helen Auckland is regarded as nothing more than a blot on the landscape and subject of countless complaints over the foul smelling stench which once regularly drifted from it.
But to Raymond and Paul Shepherd the farm and its 64 acres of land – turned into an illegal landfill site for food, household and construction waste – represents much, much more, potentially millions of pounds.
While criminal proceedings against the 58-year-old and his 56-year-old brother continued their tortuous path at Teesside Crown Court, almost a dozen hearings have been held almost unnoticed in the civil courts in respect of a possession order sought by the duo’s brother Christopher over the farm near Bishop Auckland, County Durham.
Christopher Shepherd, understood to own half of the land, hopes to sell to developer Tindale in order that affordable housing can be built on the site.
It is thought his share of the land could be worth as much as £4m, if sold for housing.
But Paul Shepherd, who lived at West Musgrave until the farmhouse was demolished in September, as it was structurally unsafe, has opposed the application.
He is countering that he has ownership of it in its entirety, as a previous tenant, and has been asked to prove that he was actively farming the land.
Another family member, Joanne Long, is named in the court papers as a second claimant, while Raymond Shepherd is a defendant alongside Paul.
On Wednesday – the day before Raymond and Paul were sentenced at Teesside Crown Court – the pair failed to have the claim struck out and instead the civil proceedings were stayed by a judge sitting at Newcastle County Court.
Should the ownership issue be settled in Christopher Shepherd’s favour, Tindale wants to bring forward an application for full outline planning permission.
A spokesman for the firm, which has also pledged to clean up the contaminated site, admitted it was in a “stalemate situation” at the moment.
As well as the contaminated land, Environment Agency inquiries also revealed an adjoining watercourse at the farm site, Tinsdale Beck, had been polluted with a brown sludge.
Councillor Rob Yorke, who represents St Helen Auckland on Durham County Council, said: “The general consensus from the residents living nearby has been that the farm was a blot on the landscape and the idea of the land now being developed is a utopia to them.”
During their long-running criminal trial – the second involving Raymond in just over a year – the two defendants cut contrasting figures.
Always suited and booted, Raymond, who was jailed for 18 months, appeared to relish the regular court hearings, sometimes representing himself in a belligerent fashion.
As one person who followed the case put it: “He could argue black is white until the cows come home.”
Meanwhile, Paul, who received a suspended jail sentence, would wear scruffy work clothes for his court appearances and often struggled to keep his eyes open during the evidence.
The two brothers’ next step – and the outcome over West Musgrave Farm – will be watched by residents in St Helen Auckland keenly.
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