Serene and beautiful, koi are symbols of peace, tranquillity, good fortune and prosperity. But not always! The fish sparked a war between neighbours in Birmingham recently. The ongoing battle was far from peaceful and ended up costing taxpayers £25,000!
Garden koi pond
Things turned nasty when Dr Mohamed Abdel-Khalek, a retired eye surgeon, and his wife Aila decided to install a 20ft koi pond in their back garden. Nothing controversial there you might think. However, their neighbours were not amused!
Phillip Brewster, a solicitor who specialises in commercial property, and his wife Jennifer complained that the noise from the pond’s pump was disturbing them and that it was leaking water into their garden. The Brewsters also complained to the council about the plastic heron and plastic Santa which Dr Abdel-Khalek had hung over the pond. Their main problem was the Saudi flag which had been hung from a nearby tree.
Protecting koi from birds
Dr Abdel-Khalek explained that the objects had been positioned to protect his koi carp from predatory birds. In their numerous complaints, the Brewsters claimed that the “items hanging from trees” were “offensive”, telling both the police and the council that the items were put up “deliberately to cause them alarm and distress”. Really?
It does seem a little odd that anyone would be alarmed and distressed by a Santa! The flag appeared to be the real problem and the Brewsters went as far as suggesting that their neighbours were extremists. The police tried to calm them down by explaining that the flag was not a symbol of terrorism. It was merely the national flag of a sovereign country.
For their part, the council attempted to end the ongoing dispute by asking both couples to sign voluntary Acceptable Behaviour Contracts. The Abdel-Khaleks refused and so the council took them to court.
Lengthy legal battle over koi pond
Several county court hearings ensued and the case eventually ended up at the High Court of Justice in Birmingham. By this time, three years had passed since the dispute began.
The High Court stated that the Brewsters “harboured irrational thoughts about the significance of the display of the Saudi Arabian flag”. They had made eleven complaints to the council about it.
In her ruling, Judge Jane George stated that the distress caused by the objects was the result of the Brewsters’ own “irrational and in some respects frankly bizarre interpretation of what things meant.” She added that their reaction was “extraordinary” as no reasonable person would be distressed by the sight of a flag in a garden.
The court ruled that an injunction should be enforced against the Abdel-Khaleks. This would prevent them from hanging items in their garden in sight of the Brewsters property. They would not be prevented from hanging items over the pond.
The legal bill
Dr and Mrs Abdel-Khalek were ordered to pay 60% of the council’s £62,000 legal costs. The council had to cover the remaining £25,000. Both couples were criticised by the judge for not finding a way to settle their differences without costing the taxpayers such a huge amount of money.
Gosh! Rows with neighbours can escalate so easily! All that heartache and money over a koi pond! Whatever next?