THE diocese of Birmingham has resolved a dispute with a Warwickshire farmer over who owned a 16-hectare piece of land.
The farmer, Richard Tyacke, who is 74, first discovered that the diocese had registered its freehold ownership of the land when he saw estate agents inspecting it six years ago, without his permission.
Although his family had bought the land in 1942 from the Church, the diocese had registered itself as the owner of the 16 hectares — roughly the size of 22 football pitches — with the Land Registry in 2011.
When Mr Tyacke’s lawyers presented the diocese and Registry with documents dating back to the sale, in 1942, of the entire farm to the Tyacke family, however, the diocese conceded that it was not the owner and backed down.
The confusion apparently arose because the Tyacke family were originally tenants on the Church’s land and separately paid an annual £30 fee to the diocese, historically intended to supplement the local priest’s income.
“It was clear the diocese didn’t own the land, and I have no idea how they managed to come to the conclusion that they owned it,” Mr Tyacke’s land agent, James Collier, told Farmers Weekly. “They submitted the application recklessly and based on nothing more than an assumption by their advisers that the £30 annual payment showed a landlord/tenant relationship.”
Mr Tyacke said that the Church had acted in an “extraordinary” way. “It’s about half-a-million pounds of land in today’s values. If it happened to me it could happen to anyone,” he told the magazine.
“If I had died not knowing, my family would have been left in such a difficult position. I dread to think what the outcome may have been.”
But, despite accepting the real ownership of the land, the diocese of Birmingham has declined Mr Tyacke’s request for compensation, and said, instead, that the error was made by the Land Registry in wrongly accepting their registration in 2011.
A spokeswoman for the diocese said that the Church of England had an “ancient right” to a regular annual payment in lieu of tithes, previously paid to the local Rector. It was this right that the Land Registry “mistakenly registered as ownership”, she said.
“The Land Registry has now corrected their mistake and compensated Mr Tyacke. As a gesture of goodwill, the diocese of Birmingham also wrote to Mr Tyacke, agreeing to waive the right to any future payments on the land. We are sorry for any aggravation this situation has caused Mr Tyacke.”
She said that the registration in 2011 was made in good faith and with the best information that the diocese had to hand at the time; but given the concern that the incident had caused the farmer, the diocese was “happy to offer an apology for our part in this mistake”.
But a spokeswoman for the Land Registry said that it was not at fault, although it has paid some compensation to Mr Tyacke to cover his legal costs because they were caused by an error in the register.
“When considering each application, we use the Land Registration Act and Rules to decide if an application can be registered,” she said.
“When an error occurs in this process, we use the same Act and Rules to determine what action should be taken and whether we can rectify the register. Anyone who suffers loss because of an error in the register can apply for compensation.”