Mr Leigh Ravenscroft v Canal and River Trust

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtChancery Division
JudgeMrs Justice Asplin
Judgment Date24 Jul 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] EWHC 1874 (Ch)
Docket NumberCase No: HC-2015-001906

[2017] EWHC 1874 (Ch)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

CHANCERY DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice

Rolls Building

Fetter Lane, London, EC4A 1NL

Before:

The Hon Mrs Justice Asplin DBE

Case No: HC-2015-001906

Between:
Mr Leigh Ravenscroft
Claimant
and
Canal and River Trust
Defendant

Leigh Ravenscroft — Litigant in Person (Represented by Nigel Moore (McKenzie Friend) for the Claimant

Christopher Stoner QC (instructed by Shoosmiths) for the Defendant

Hearing dates: 22, 23 and 24 May 2017

Judgment Approved

Mrs Justice Asplin
1

This is a dispute between Mr Leigh Ravenscroft, the owner of a boat named "The Three Wise Monkeys" and the Canal & River Trust (the "CRT"). On 27 January 2015, the CRT removed the "Three Wise Monkeys" from its mooring on the River Trent at Farndon Ferry, Newark, Nottinghamshire and put it in storage in Chester. It was returned to Mr Ravenscroft on 6 May 2015 on payment of £8,176.

2

Mr Ravenscroft contends that CRT had no power to remove "The Three Wise Monkeys" from the River Trent because it was moored in a part of the river which did not constitute the "main navigable channel". He says therefore, that the powers in section 8 British Waterways Act 1983 (the "1983 Act") did not apply. Mr Ravenscroft seeks various declarations in that regard to the effect that the seizure of the vessel was unlawful, the term "main navigable channel" having the same meaning as it does in the British Waterways Act 1971 (the "1971 Act") and the Transport Act 1968 (the "1968 Act"). He also seeks a refund of the sum of £8,176 and compensation.

3

If he is wrong about the ambit of the "main navigable channel", Mr Ravenscroft says that the removal of his vessel from the River Trent was a step which was disproportionate, unnecessary and contrary to Article 1 of Protocol 1 of Human Rights Act 1998. He seeks a declaration to that effect, together with such relief or remedy under that Act as the Court thinks fit.

4

Further, and in any event, Mr Ravenscroft contends that the CRT took the "Three Wise Monkeys" and used it unlawfully to distrain for licence fees. He seeks a declaration to that effect, a refund of the removal and storage charges of £6,490.80 and "subsequent costs" together with such compensation as the Court considers just and appropriate

5

At paragraph 17 of the Amended Particulars of Claim, under the heading "Damages", Mr Ravenscroft refers to having "lost an agreed sale" as a result of the seizure of his boat and having "been unable to find a buyer since storing it on a nearby farm at a continuing cost." No particulars of loss are provided. There is reference in Mr Ravenscroft's witness statement, however, to having agreed to sell the boat on 30 December 2014 for £28,000, subject only to an out of water survey. Further, at paragraph 18 reference is made to having paid "4 years of pleasure boat registration, totaling £1,685.20 even for years I did not own the boat" and at paragraph 20, having had to borrow money in order to "retrieve my boat and pursue this claim". No particulars are provided of the alleged loss as a result of borrowing money, nor are details set out in Mr Ravenscroft's witness statement. However, in his witness statement, Mr Ravenscroft refers to having had to sell the boat at a loss to repay funds borrowed in order to secure its return. He makes no reference, however, to not having been the owner of the boat during the relevant four year period.

6

Although it is not pleaded, in his witness statement, Mr Ravenscroft also refers to the front and rear canopies of the boat having been ripped off. However, in cross examination, Mr Ravenscroft accepted that no damage was caused to the vessel when it was taken from the water, other than peripheral scratches to the paintwork and forcing of studs on the canopy which was easily remedied. There is no evidence before the Court as to any loss in that regard.

Background

7

CRT is the statutory successor to the British Waterways Board (the "BWB") and pursuant to the British Waterways Board (Transfer of Functions) Order 2012 (SI 2012/1659) all references to the BWB in the legislation with which this matter is concerned are to be construed as references to the CRT. The CRT is a charitable body and the navigation authority for certain inland waterways in England and Wales. It is not in dispute that that stretch of the River Trent upon which the "Three Wise Monkeys" was moored is such an inland waterway by virtue of section 4 and Schedule 1 to the 1971 Act as amended. The reference in the schedule to the 1971 Act is to "The Trent Navigation from the tail of Meadow Lane Lock, Nottingham to Gainsborough Bridge." The extent of the River Trent to which section 4 of the 1971 Act applies was extended by virtue of section 36(2) British Waterways Act 1974 to include:

"The Trent Navigation from Shardlow to the tail of Meadow Land Lock, Nottingham, by way of the Beeston Canal and part of the Nottingham Canal and including the branch to the river Soar and the length of the river Trent from its junction with the Nottingham Canal to Beeston Weir."

8

When known as the 'Grandma Molly', the "Three Wise Monkeys" had a "pleasure boat" certificate issued by the BWB. That certificate expired on 30 th June 2011. It is not in dispute that the vessel has not had a pleasure boat certificate or other form of 'relevant consent' since. CRT's evidence (which is disputed) is that prior to its removal from the River Trent, various notices were served both on the vessel itself and on Mr Ravenscroft at his last known address but that no response was received.

Representation

9

Mr Ravenscroft is a litigant in person. By an order of Chief Master Marsh dated 14 September 2016, Mr Ravenscroft was granted permission to have the assistance of Mr Nigel Moore as a McKenzie Friend and Mr Moore was granted rights of audience. Mr Moore is a person who appears to have extensive knowledge about the regulation of the inland waterways and to have an interest in pursuing issues on behalf of boaters. At the beginning of the hearing before me I asked Mr Ravenscroft if he wanted Mr Moore to continue to speak on his behalf and if so, why. He explained that he is dyslexic and could not carry out the task himself. I therefore, did not consider it necessary to vary the order of Chief Master Marsh.

10

The CRT was represented by Mr Stoner QC.

The Evidence

11

The evidence was contained in witness statements of: Mr Ravenscroft dated 12 January 2017; Mr Stuart Garner, an enforcement officer on behalf of the CRT, dated 10 January 2017; Mr Michael Grimes, Head of Boating at the CRT but who has since left that employment and whose evidence was adopted by Mr Thomas Deards, the CRT Head of "Legal" in his first witness statement of 22 March 2017 and Mr Deards' second witness statement of 8 May 2017.

12

The majority of Mr Ravenscroft's witness statement is concerned with the events which occurred at the Farndon Ferry Marina on 27 January 2015 when the "Three Wise Monkeys" was removed from the water and he, his father and a number of others confronted Mr Garner, the CRT Enforcement Officer. In that regard, I was also shown extracts from a video which was taken by someone at the scene. Mr Ravenscroft also deals with the sequence of events after the vessel was seized.

13

Mr Moore also provided me with a number of Google Earth images. They were: an aerial view of the Trent Navigation at Farndon Ferry and its environs; a close up aerial view of the Farndon Ferry area itself; a stretch of the River Trent showing a pontoon stretching out some distance almost to a dotted line imposed down the centre of the river; an aerial view showing boats moored in a river close to the bank; and an aerial view of a stretch of the River Thames showing boats moored in the centre of the river in the lee of an island, also in the centre of the river.

14

Mr Garner's evidence relates for the most part to the notices served in relation to the "Three Wise Monkeys" and the events at the Marina on 27 January 2015. Mr Grimes' evidence which was adopted by Mr Deards, contains general information about the management of waterways by the CRT.

15

Mr Garner says that on 1 June 2012, the BWB sent a letter to the owner of the land at Farndon Ferry, requesting details of the owner of the vessel. No response was received. He goes on to say that on 17 July 2012, a patrol notice was served on the boat stating the owner should apply within 14 days for a licence and requested that the owner contact the relevant Enforcement Officer. Further, on 9 August 2012 notice was served pursuant to section 8(2) British Waterways Act 1983 requiring the boat to be removed. Mr Garner states that the notice was served both on the boat itself and at Mr Ravenscroft's last known address. Thereafter, a further patrol notice was served on the boat and by post at Mr Ravenscroft's address on 17 October 2012.

16

On 14 February 2014, Mr Garner wrote a letter to Mr Ravenscroft referring to a patrol notice dated 17 July 2012. He stated:

"We have still not received your completed application within the time specified and I have therefore today served notice under section 8 of the British Waterways Act 1983 (copy enclosed) which requires you to remove your boat from inland waterways owned or managed by British Waterways within 28 days. If you fail to do this we will immediately being the process of removing your boat at your expense.

You have 28 days to obtain your licence and you need to allow 14 days for us to process your application, so you must submit your application within the next 2 weeks in order to avoid your boat being removed."

The notice itself is headed "Notice Pursuant to section 8(2) British Waterways Act 1983 Sunk, Stranded, Abandoned or Unauthorised Craft". It makes no mention of arrears of licence fees.

17

Thereafter, on 1 July 2014, Mr Garner says...

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