AN OUTBREAKOF COMMON SENSE

AN OUTBREAKOF COMMON SENSE
BY JAMES SLACK HOME AFFAIRS EDITOR

JUDGES finally took a stand over the compensation culture yesterday, warning that it
threatened to destroy the British way of life.

The Court of Appeal dismissed a £150,000 damages claim against the Royal British
Legion from a woman who broke her leg after falling into a hole left when a maypole was
removed from a village green.

2 March 2007 Daily Mail (c) 2007 Associated Newspapers. All rights reserved
The hole had become exposed after being filled in two years earlier.
Traditions held dear by millions would be ruined if the damages claim was allowed to
stand, the judges said.
In some cases, they argued, accidents did happen and no one should be blamed.
Lord Justice Scott Baker said: ‘If the law courts were to set a higher standard of care
than what is reasonable, the consequences would quickly be felt.

‘There would be no fetes, no maypole dancing and no activities that have come to be a
part of the English village green for fear of what might go wrong.’

MPs and campaigners last night said the ruling should set a precedent for courts across
the land – which have ordered payments worth hundreds of millions of pounds against
schools, hospitals and playgroups, much of it pocketed by solicitors.

The claim against the Legion was lodged by Yvonne Cole, an antiques shop owner from
Eastbourne, East Sussex.
The court heard the legion had run an annual fete, which featured maypole dancing, in
the ‘picture postcard’ village of East Dean, near Eastbourne, until 1999. The hole in the
green left by the maypole had been filled in at that time. Villager Percy Grey, a retired
architect and legion member, checked the hole a few days later to make sure the job
had been done properly. He even used his souvenir Army bayonet for the purpose.

Two years later, in April 2001, Mrs Cole tripped over the hole as she walked across the
green for dinner at The Tiger pub with her husband and a friend.

In May 2005, Judge Simpkiss ruled in the lower courts that the legion was liable to pay £
150,000 compensation to Mrs Cole for her injuries.

But that decision was overturned by the Appeal Court yesterday, leaving Mrs Cole facing
a £150,000 legal bill.
Lord Justice Scott Baker said: ‘The hole only became exposed relatively shortly before
the accident.
‘There is no evidence how the hole became exposed, although the most likely
explanation is that children playing were responsible for doing so. In my judgment, the
legion cannot be said to have been negligent and, although I have great sympathy for
Mrs Cole, I have to allow the appeal.’

The judge added: ‘Accidents happen and sometimes they are what can only be
described as "proper accidents", in the sense that the victim cannot recover damages
because fault cannot be established.’

President of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Igor Judge, said: ‘The accident was plainly
not Mrs Cole’s fault. The issue is whether it was caused by the negligence of the British
Legion .

‘In villages up and down the country, happiness and good fellowship abound.
‘These occasions do not happen by accident. There is always a group of people in the
village who come together and make the day possible.

‘Here, the British Legion and many others made their contributions. They are informal
village days and everyone pulls together and does what is needed. A few days later
(after the 1999 fete), an elderly war veteran dug out the hole using his souvenir bayonet
and refilled it making it level on the surface of the green.

‘There was no formality about this. He happened to be a member of the British Legion
but was in reality a member of the community making his own contribution to the village
and its safety.

‘The hole was properly filled up and the job was done. Sympathetic as I am for the
injuries Mrs Cole sustained, this appeal by the British Legion must be allowed.’

Sir Igor Judge is the second most senior judge in the country, behind only the Lord Chief
Justice, Lord Phillips.
Mrs Cole declined to comment after the Appeal Court hearing, which is said to have left
the Legion ‘hugely relieved’.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Tax-Payers’ Alliance, said: This ruling will hopefully
set a strong precedent for the more junior judges who have taken leave of their senses.
It is a victory for common sense that will benefit everyone except litigious lawyers.’

j.slack@dailymail.co.uk