Couple Facing Ruin over [Pounds Sterling]1/2m Church Repair Bill; Law Lords Rule That Ancient Law on Who Pays for Upkeep Must Stand
Byline: CHARLOTTE GILL
WHEN Gail Wallbank inherited a farm belonging to her late father, she thought of it as a welcome retirement nest egg.
But now she and her husband Andrew face ruin over the 176-acre farm, worth [pounds sterling]1.5million.
They have been hit with a [pounds sterling]500,000 bill because of an ancient law which makes owners of Glebe Farm responsible for upkeep of their local church.
With their welcome inheritance, the Wallbanks unwittingly took on liability as 'lay rectors' of the 12th century St John the Baptist church.
They had no idea that the medieval law - now known as the 1932 Chancel Repairs Act - applied to their property in the Warwickshire village of Aston Cantlow.
Mr Wallbank, 64, and his 57-yearold wife first learned of the responsibility in 1990 when they say the church - which has a congregation of just 25 - asked them for [pounds sterling]6,000 to repair the chancel.
Believing the law no longer existed they refused to pay, but by 1997 the figure had soared to over [pounds sterling]95,000 and the couple launched a legal battle to contest the claim.
In 2000, the High Court found in favour of the church but a year later the Court of Appeal backed the couple.
Then in June last year, the Church of England went to the House of Lords, which ruled that the medieval law still stood and ordered the Wallbanks, who lease the arable farm and live on a sheep farm 60 miles away in Carno, Powys, to pay up.
The church now claims the amount needed for repairs has more than doubled to [pounds sterling]230,000.
In addition, the couple, who have seven children, estimate their legal costs will be at least [pounds sterling]250,000.
The case is due to be heard in the High Court again in March because the parties cannot agree on the repair bill.
'We have offered them [pounds sterling]23,000 because we believe that is what it will cost for repairs to keep out the wind and rain, which is all that we believe a lay rector should be responsible for,' said Mr Wallbank yesterday. …