Police were called in to investigate allegations of threats and abuse during a bitter row over a tiny Cornish beauty spot that has split the community and dragged on for more than a decade, a public inquiry has heard.
Scores of people who live in and around Forder, near Saltash, have been campaigning for the land on the banks of the River Lynher to be turned into a village green so that it can be freely used by the whole community.
But on Tuesday, at the start of a long-awaited public inquiry on the village green application, it emerged that the farmer who owns the land turned to the police following an alleged campaign of abuse and threats against her, family members and supporters.
Farmer Ruth Ramsden claimed she had received threatening mail and graffiti had been daubed on walls criticising her opposition to the application. Documents produced at the inquiry show that the police were contacted and investigated. No arrests have been made.
Ramsden said when she opened the “hate mail” she felt physically sick and had suffered depression because of the abuse: “For a significant time, I could not even walk on the farm on my own. I left home for long periods and went to live at my mother’s croft in Scotland. When these incidents occur, I still go there to escape. This causes huge disruption to the farm and my family.
“There is a clear agenda to stop me having my say. I have been helped to manage by what I like to call ‘proper locals’. There are now numerous numbers I can call any time of the day or night for help, which will be there in minutes.
“The locals refer to wealthy retirees who come to Cornwall and chuck their weight around as ‘Saga louts’. It has not been funny for me.”
In 2008 a retired merchant seaman and teacher, Colin Brown, applied to Cornwall council to register the land as a village green on behalf of almost 150 residents. They argued that the plot had been used for decades by the community, including by scouts and church groups for barbecues and other events.
Earlier this year the local government and social care ombudsman, Michael King, expressed concern that the council had still not made a decision on the land and said it had taken so long that some of those who had backed the application had died. It ordered that Brown be paid £600 compensation.
On day one of the much anticipated public inquiry at Saltash Guildhall, several witnesses described the ways in which the land had been used by the community – and said they did not know who was behind the alleged abuse.
Speaking outside the hearing, Brown said he was aware of intimidation directed towards the landowner and condemned the behaviour. He said: “We don’t know who did it or what the motives are.”
Under section 15 of the Commons Act 2006, land can be registered as a town or village green if a significant number of residents have “indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years”.
The inquiry is expected to take three days.