THREE men have appeared in court in the latest chapter of an extraordinary multi-million pound feud over ownership of the family farm.

Paul Stuart Shepherd, his brother Raymond Anthony Shepherd and Raymond’s son Tony Leigh Shepherd were summonsed to Newton Aycliffe Magistrates Court as part of a private prosecution being brought by a third brother, Christopher Shepherd.

The trio are accused under common law of conspiracy to defraud Christopher Shepherd. He has alleged Paul Shepherd forged a 40-year farm business tenancy agreement in a bid to claim ownership of West Musgrave Farm, in St Helen Auckland, County Durham, which Raymond and Tony Leigh are said to have witnessed.

Christopher Shepherd, who lives in Scotland, also says Paul Shepherd has not been actively farming the land at the 64 acre site and he and his sister Joanne Long should be granted vacant possession as rightful owners.

A Northern Ireland-based developer, Tindale, has been in discussions with Durham County Council with a view to transforming the farmland into social housing and hopes to bring forward an application for full outline planning permission.

But the plans and the sale of the land – estimated to be worth several million pounds – have been held up by the ownership wrangle.

The Northern Echo understands that the Crown Prosecution Service is yet to determine whether the private prosecution being brought could be turned into a criminal prosecution.

Paul Shepherd, 57, previously lived at West Musgrave Farm until the farmhouse was demolished in September last year, having been deemed to be structurally unsafe. He has recently been living in a caravan on the Shildon Industrial Estate.

Separate civil proceedings, which have been held in Newcastle and Leeds County Courts, have heard arguments over a possession order brought by Christopher Shepherd, but it has yet to be ruled upon by a judge.

Local residents have previously complained about noxious smells from West Musgrave Farm, while one local councillor has described it as a “blot on the landscape”.

A spokesman for Tindale said neighbours living beside the farm were having to suffer a number of “outstanding issues”.

Paul Shepherd, Raymond Shepherd, 59, of Burnside Cottages, Rookhope, County Durham, and Tony Leigh Shepherd, of Front Street, Winston, Darlington, were granted bail by District Judge Martin Walker.

He directed the case would be heard at Durham Crown Court on April 7.