A council and the police acted unlawfully when they used a Victorian law against a shepherd whose sheep had entered a village.
Cardiff County Court held that Forest of Dean District Council and Gloucestershire Police had acted unlawfully when they used the Town and Police Clauses Act 1847 to seize the sheep after shepherd Jeremy Awdry’s flock wandered into Bream.
He will now receive compensation of £2,538 for the loss of 54 sheep.
Craig Court, senior associate solicitor at law firm Harding Evans, who acted for Mr Awdry, said: “As far as I am aware this is the first time that [the Act’s] use has been challenged in this way.
“In this case, the aim of the plan was confiscatory in nature rather than to alleviate a situation and so the judge found that the council and the police could not bring themselves within the Act. As a result the seizure amounted to conversion.
“If the authorities were able to use the Act in the way that the council and police tried to use it here, it would essentially give them powers which would not be in the public interest and potentially incompatible with a person’s right to his property under A1P1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The case highlights the care that should be taken when an authority is considering what action to take when contemplating interfering with a person’s property.”
Barrister David Hughes, of 30 Park Place Chambers, who appeared in the case for the claimant, said: “The judge decided the council and police had a draft operational plan prepared by a council employee which listed the objectives as including ensuring the maximum costs were charged.”
He added the judge had found that the importance of setting charges for the sheep high enough to ensure Mr Awdry could not get them back was central to the plan.
“The suggestion that that was merely a welcome by-product did not sit with the plan, and whilst the defendants may have been trying to deal with a legitimate issue, it was designed to cost enough money to make it uneconomic for [him] to get his sheep back,” Mr Hughes said.
A Forest of Dean spokesperson said: “Residents in Bream got in touch with us and Gloucestershire Constabulary on numerous occasions to report sheep entering their gardens and causing a lot damage.
“As a response to this we removed the animals in good faith in an attempt to give the residents some respite from the situation. Obviously we’re disappointed with the outcome but we’re pleased that the damages are significantly less than those originally claimed for.”