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Crown granted squatter's rights over River Severn; Appeal Court backs Crown in legal battle with 'Lord Marcher of Magor'.

Byline: Mike Jones

THE Crown won the right to claim "squatter's rights" yesterday after winning a titanic legal struggle with a "Lord of the Manor" who claimed ownership of vast tracts of the River Severn estuary.

The Crown joined the ranks of vagrants, homeless students and other squatters when three top judges ruled that it has exactly the same rights as any private citizen to claim entitlement to land if it has been in unchallenged possession for long enough.

Controversial Cardiff businessman Mark Roberts, right - a renowned expert on the ancient laws and history of Lordships of the Manor - had argued it was wrong for the Crown to claim squatter's rights over land he says is his under legal principles dating back to the Norman Conquest.

However, Appeal Court judges disagreed and said he was not entitled to thousands of acres of land forming the foreshore and bed of the River Severn estuary.

Dismissing Mr Roberts' appeal, Lord Justice Mummery, sitting with Lord Justice Jacob and Mr Justice Mann, said it was "beyond doubt" that the same law of adverse possession - commonly known as squatter's rights - "applies to both the Crown and citizen".

Mr Roberts, whose fiefdom centres on the Welsh Marches, has acquired more than 60 Lordships of the Manor and argued that as Lord Marcher of Magor he owns the sand, mud flats and river bed on the Welsh side of the river, right up to the centre of the deep water channel.

The area contains valuable sand dredging beds and could be worth millions in the future should plans for tidal and wind-powered electricity generation schemes go ahead.

He acquired the Lordship of Magor in 1997 and his title runs back to the conquest of the Principality of Wales by Edward I - "Edward Longshanks" - in 1282.

Mr Roberts, who the court heard has "paper title" to the disputed land, argued the constitutional principle underpinning his ownership rights goes right back to the Norman Conquest "according to ancient customary or Welsh law".

But when he tried to register his title to the land, he ran into conflict with The Crown Estate Commissioners, who said The Crown had been in unchallenged possession of the land for centuries - far longer than the 12 years needed to establish squatter's rights.

In the Appeal Court, Mr Roberts relied on a "supposed fundamental constitutional principle" that the Crown cannot claim adverse possession over a subject's land unless it can prove that its original entry onto the land, by its servants or agents, was lawful.

Although the court heard the Crown Estate Commissioners "valued integrity and would never intentionally trespass on someone else's land", they nevertheless argued that, having been in "ordinary possession" for centuries, they should be declared the land's rightful owner.

Dismissing Mr Roberts's appeal after analysis of laws going back hundreds of years, Lord Justice Mummery said the 1980 Limitation Act, which established adverse possession rights after 12 years of unchallenged occupation, applies to the Crown, just like any private citizen.

The judge said Mr Roberts had failed to establish the "alleged historic or constitutional distinction" at the heart of his case.

He concluded, "The Crown has the same right as its subjects to rely on the law of limitation, which was enacted for a purpose which applies as much to the case of the Crown itself as it does to the Crown's subjects."

Mr Roberts was ordered to pay the substantial legal costs of the case, the amount of which will be assessed at a later date.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 21, 2008
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