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Elderly St George couple in battle over golf course land access

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Standing firm: Shirley Gibbons, left, with his wife, Gardene, and property surveyor Quinell Francis

An elderly couple are facing a David and Goliath battle over access to their home in St George.

Shirley Gibbons, 92, and his wife, Gardene, 80, had the route to their house on Secretary Lane blocked after operators of the neighbouring St Regis resort erected gates on roads that cut through its golf course earlier this year.

The hotel’s owner, Hotelco Bermuda Holdings, claimed the barriers were necessary to block motorists who used the roads and golf cart paths as short cuts.

Permission to erect them was granted by the Department of Planning, despite receiving almost 50 objections from residents.

In a tit-for-tat move this week, Mr and Mrs Gibbons put a series of metal poles across a path that cuts through their property. The path is used by golfers in carts driving from the second green to the third tee of the course.

But yesterday, two unidentified men were caught on camera sawing the poles down and tossing them to the side of the path.

A lawyer for the couple said that they would file a criminal complaint with the police alleging trespassing and damage to private property.

Philip Perinchief said: “What you see before us right here is the destruction of private property — the poles that were erected here in order for the Gibbonses to protect their property.”

Mr Perinchief said that residents had been in talks with the Government for two years to find a resolution.

He added: “The negotiations that I’ve been in since early January have not been fruitful, they’ve not been helpful and we want to get this matter settled for my clients.

“This particular piece of property has the Suez and Panama canal value in that it must be used by this hotel which benefits from it, as well as the Government who lease this property to the hotel. But they are treating it as their own property.

Up: the poles were erected by Shirley and Gardene Gibbons on Thursday evening
Down: but were removed on Friday morning

“There’s no reasonable compensation for the Gibbonses for their private property that is being used. They are being run roughshod over by big business and big government.

“I’m here to tell you that I will not stand by and let that happen. There has got to be a compromise deal that works for everybody.”

He claimed that during negotiations, Hotelco erected a gate at Somner Lane, which leads to Secretary Lane and permits only pedestrian access, not vehicular access.

“Somner Lane is an estate road — it gives access to three or more dwellings — yet this hotel has been allowed to put up a gate to block it.

“We’re not prepared any more to allow the Government or Hotelco to continue to oppress and frustrate these clients.

“This devalues the property and doesn’t allow them free and easy access. These are the matters that will be dealt with. We need to come to the table and get this sorted out.”

No access: the padlocked gate on Somner Lane, topped with barbed wire, has denied Shirley and Gardene Gibbons vehicle access to their home

Quinell Francis, a land surveyor who has been advising the Gibbons, confirmed that a stretch of path used by golfers does run across their property.

She added that she had some sympathy for Hotelco because she believed the firm had been duped by the Government into believing that the stretch of path was government property — and therefore part of the lease agreement that Hotelco had signed.

Ms Francis also pointed out that the Government had made desperate attempts to buy the strip of road — which is about 100 feet in length — from the Gibbons.

She said: “This piece of property here is sandwiched between the St Regis resort and the St George’s Club and the Government has no right to allow Hotelco to use it — the Government doesn’t have the authority because it doesn’t own it.

“Even the Government’s own plans show that it’s private property, not government property.

“But I suspect Hotelco didn’t know that when they signed the lease. Perhaps Hotelco should team up with the Gibbonses against the Government.

“Basically, the Government has committed a wrong, and rather than correct that wrong, they’re trying to please Hotelco at the expense of the Gibbonses.

“The issue here is that now they have restricted the Gibbonses of access to their property. They have reconfigured the whole right-of-way issue for the Gibbonses and it has not been proven right.

“They’re now been trying to tell the Gibbonses that they have no rights over their own property. It’s been identified by government surveyors as well to say that this is the Gibbonses’ property.”

The Royal Gazette has been told that the couple have been asked to produce deeds showing they own the land but have not done so.

Mrs Gibbons blamed the Government for allowing the situation to develop.

She said: “They have given Hotelco permission to just do as they please on our property, which is private property.”

Mrs Gibbons said that David Burch, the Minister for Public Works, and Randy Rochester, the ministry’s permanent secretary, had done “virtually nothing” to help.

She said: “They have actually given the St Regis permission to do as they please on our property and they’ve put up gates, which takes away access for my husband and I coming to our property.

“They just seem to think that it’s OK, but this is our property and they are certainly not going to tell us that we can’t have access to our property. It’s shameful.

“We can walk through the gate but for us, at our age, it’s a long walk and it land-locks our property. If we decided to sell, who would buy landlocked property?

“It’s been very difficult because the Government has not stood by us at all. We think it’s terrible what the Government is doing to us. They’ve put us through this for just about two years ”

Public works minister responds

David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, gave a guarded apology to the Gibbons family.

And he also appeared to imply that Ms Francis was correct in her claim that the Government had erroneously included a strip of private property owned by the Gibbonses as part of the lease granted to Hotelco.

But he did not explain why the matter had still not been resolved after two years, claiming that it was “complicated”.

He also dismissed claims by Mrs Gibbons that he and his ministerial staff had done nothing to seek support the couple in their dispute.

Questioned by The Royal Gazette, Colonel Burch said: “This is a very complicated matter that was only brought to light after the agreement between the Government and Hotelco was concluded to build a new hotel.

"My position on this has not changed — from the very beginning of my involvement — that I will do everything within my power to ensure that Mr and Mrs Gibbons are not disadvantaged.

“That is what we have been working towards and I agree with the Gibbons family that this has taken very long, but we have been unable to get an agreement between all parties. We remain committed, however, to working towards that goal."

Renée Ming, a government MP who represents St George, condemned the Government for failing to find a resolution.

Ms Ming said: “This is probably complete frustration at this stage. We have been 18 months trying to work with the Government to avoid the place we find ourselves in today.

“The Government is the landlord and the landlord should have protected the Gibbonses.

“I would hope that right now, everyone who sees this today — this could be your parents or your grandparents. At the ages of 92 and 80, you should not have to fight for property that you’ve owned for 60 years.

“The Government had a role and has a role to protect our people. This is their land. You cannot dispute that, the Government knows it’s their land. Its technical officers have visited this site many times.

“We should not be finding ourselves in this space today. What we have now is a clear case of trespassing and the removal of the Gibbonses’ private property.

“This is a serious matter and it should have been dealt with in a more reasonable and collaborative manner.”

Hotelco declined to comment.