Fisherman found guilty of harassing café owners over unregistered scrap of land
PUBLISHED: 08:29 23 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:35 23 May 2018
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It is a tiny patch of land perched on the cliffs beside an idyllic coastal path at West Runton.
It does not look significant – but it has been the staging ground for a fierce conflict between fishermen and the local café owner.
The bizarre conflict included cones being repeatedly moved and replaced, rope cut and negative reviews being posted on Sea View Beach Café’s Facebook page – including accusing the owners of “bringing their London ways into Norfolk”.
Yesterday the row came to court, where 71-year-old fisherman David Chambers was found guilty of harassing Martin Hipkin and assaulting a police officer.
A two-day trial at Norwich Magistrates Court heard Chambers and Mr Hipkin had a “long running dispute” over the patch of land beside the pavilion at the café car park.
It boiled over between August and November last year, with Chambers posting negative reviews on the café’s Facebook page accusing them of being “horrible and rude people”.
The court saw CCTV of Chambers parking his truck behind the pavilion and moving traffic cones placed there by Mr Hipkin. After the café closed for the winter months, footage showed Chambers cutting pieces of rope put in place to secure the site and removing them.
The land in question is subject to a dispute between Chambers and North Norfolk District Council, with a tribunal scheduled for two months’ time.
Chambers argued the land had been used by fishermen for so long they could lay claim to it. But it forms part of the coastal path, which the council is attempting to register.
Chambers told the court he had been exercising his “rights as a commercial fisherman” in keeping access to the beach open, and denied accusations he had come to West Runton after being “banned from Cromer”.
“I have been a fisherman nearly 50 years and I have been working around West Runton for nearly 22 years,” he said.
“There has been an ongoing issue over that land. The cones were restricting the fishermen from working and they were unsafe. [Mr Hipkin] was putting them back as soon as we moved them.
“Our predecessors of over 100 years have known it as common land and we have used it as such. We use the land for storage of our vessels. We had a meeting with the council and it turns out nobody owns it. It is unregistered land. I registered it against the council and that’s how the whole thing has got out of proportion.”
When questioned about the Facebook posts, Chambers said: “It said on the page would you like to leave your opinion, and that’s what I did.
“We had no trouble until Mr Hipkin moved in. Since then we have had nothing but trouble over this piece of land.”
He added he had a “really good relationship” with the previous owner of the café, and accused Mr Hipkin of putting traffic cones illegally on public land.
“I have never got along with [Mr Hipkin]. He is quite an obnoxious man. I stopped using the café because I went in there and on eating the sandwich there were dog hairs in it. That was three years ago and I have never been back.”
He added he cut the ropes “to open up the public path”.
The dispute reached a peak on October 13 when Chambers was arrested at the car park after a 999 call was made. As police officers attempted to arrest him, PC Kate Robinson was assaulted as he grabbed her arm, the court heard.
Chambers had previously been convicted in 2016 of threatening behaviour towards Mr Hipkin but was cleared of assaulting him and kicking his dog. Giving evidence, Mr Hipkin said they had “tried very, very hard” to make the business a friendly place for visitors and to move it forward.
He said: “I have always encouraged that the fishermen were part and parcel of that. They always have been. My other half always used to open up on her own but since this happened she won’t set foot in the café on her own.
“She won’t go down to the beach any more for fear of repercussions. We have taken every precaution we possibly can. We just want to run the business and it is getting to the point where we can’t.
“That is the original coastal path and when Norfolk Trails put a path in that was the route it was going to go. We were asked to put cones there to stop people parking on the footpath.”
Chambers was given a conditional discharge and made to pay £625 costs and a £20 victim surcharge.