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Jones & Anor v Ruth & Anor, Court of Appeal, 12 July 2011

25 July 2011
The issues

Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – damages – foreseeability.

The facts

The Claimants, Ms Jones and Ms Lovegrove, were the owners of a terraced house in Lower Thrift Street, Nottingham. The Defendants, Mr and Mrs Ruth, owned the property next door and the next two houses in the terrace. Extensive work was carried out by the Ruth’s to one of those houses, in the course of which the house was gutted and rebuilt with the addition of a new storey. Similar treatment was then given to the next property.

In February 2008 the Claimants started proceedings for damages for nuisance and trespass to their property caused by the building works. They alleged that the works had caused cracking in the walls of their property. They also alleged that there had been trespass onto their garden when scaffolding poles were erected and that a boundary wall had been damaged and partly demolished and that there had been numerous incidents of rubbish being thrown into their garden or of other anti-social behaviour. They also sought damages for personal injuries and financial losses caused by the negligence of the Defendants and by certain aspects of their conduct, contrary to Section 1 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The claim for personal injury was made by Ms Jones, who allegedly suffered from severe back pain brought on by the anxiety and depression caused by witnessing the damage to her property. She had allegedly not been able to work since April 2005.

The matter came to Trial in April 2010 in which the Judge had found the principle allegations of trespass and nuisance proved. The Judge found, in respect of harassment and personal injury, that the Defendants, had since 2003, conducted a campaign of harassment against Ms Jones. She and Ms Lovegrove lived in a same sex relationship. The Judge in particular relied on an incident when either the Defendants or their children dropped notes from an upstairs window containing offensive or threatening remarks about lesbians. He awarded Ms Jones £6,000 for harassment but did not award any damages for the personal injury and financial losses alleged to have been caused by the harassment.

As to the claim in negligence, the Judge dismissed it on the basis that Ms Jones had not proved that the injuries which she suffered were attributable to her seeing the damage to her property.

Ms Jones Appealed on the basis that the Judge should have awarded damages in respect of personal injuries and associated losses in respect of her claim for harassment.

The decision

Foreseeability of the injury or loss sustained by a Claimant in a case of harassment was not an essential element in the cause of action. There was nothing in the statutory language used by the Act which imported an additional requirement of foreseeability. Nor was foreseeability of damage the gist of the tort. Section 1 was concerned with deliberate conduct of a kind which the Defendant knew or ought to have known would amount to harassment of the Claimant. Once proven, the Defendant was responsible in damages for the injury and loss which flowed from that conduct. There was nothing in the nature of the cause of action which called for further qualification to give effect to the obvious policy objectives of the statute.

The Judge was wrong to exclude an award of damages for personal injury based on an absence of foreseeability. The Judge had said that if he had found it appropriate to award general damages for personal injuries they would have been assessed at £28,750, which was now an agreed sum. Similarly, the Judge’s figure for loss of earnings at £115,000 would also be awarded.

The Defendants cross-Appealed with regard to costs.

The cross-Appeal was dismissed.

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