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Case study: Property Rights and Noise

An 81-year-old widow, Pamela Thornhill, brought legal proceedings against the scrapyard beside her home in Cambridge. She complained of noise, vibration and dust coming from the yard. Mrs Thornhill lived in the former station master's home for more 50 years. Mrs Thornhill's husband, Derek, was a railway engineer who bought the property from British Rail Engineering Ltd in the late 1960s. Derek died in 1975.

All parties agreed that the noise from the site was "sufficient to constitute a nuisance" but the scrapyard operator argued that the yard was also on former railway land. When the house had been conveyed to Derek Thornhill a clause in the conveyance restricted the house owner’s right to complain about industrial noise.

The Court had to decide whether the 1969 conveyance took away a common law right as property owners to sue for nuisance. Judge Richard Seymour said that the clause in the original land conveyance did not restrict Mr or Mrs Thornhill's right to an injunction or damages. The scrapyard was ordered to pay £25,000 damages to Mrs Thornhill. At the end of the 2009 case, the Judge said :

"The right to complain over a nuisance is not a commodity to be bought and sold on a whim."

In his view it was "not possible in law" to prevent an owner of property complaining of nuisance by the provisions in a conveyance for land.

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