A COUPLE who had a farmhouse in Aston Cantlow left to them as part of a family will have been forced to sell the property after a lengthy legal battle with the local church.

Andrew and Gail Wallbank inherited Glebe Farm from Gail’s father in 1982. He had purchased the farm in 1970 and had noticed at the time that under an ancient law, he was liable for the repair of the nearby 13th century church chancel.

Andrew said: “He made inquiries and he was assured by the church that it was an ancient law and he wouldn’t be held to it. It’s recorded in minutes.”

But in 1990, the church decided to enforce the law, and insisted that the Wallbanks were legally obliged to pay for repairs to St John the Baptists Church.

The couple contested the claim, taking their case to the High Court, where the case was found in favour of the Parochial Parish Council (PCC).

They then took the case to the Appeals Court where they won and it was decided that the law was unjust and contravened the Wallbank’s Human Rights. However the PPC appealed to the House of Lords, and the decision was overturned, meaning that the Wallbanks owed a significant amount of money.

Andrew added: “Having accepted that we had to pay for repairs, it’s taken a further two-and-a-half years to get them to accept a figure for lifting liability for the property in future. In the meantime the house was unsaleable. We didn’t have that sort of change in our back pockets.”

Andrew and Gail eventually sold Glebe Farm this week at auction for £850,000, of which £250,000 plus VAT will be going to the church. It has cost a further £36,500 to buy their way out of the Chancel Repair Liability so that they could sell the property on in good faith.

Commenting on what Gail’s father would have thought of the bequest, Andrew said: “I think he’d be utterly appauled.It’s a very nice house and a very nice farm, but we think we’d have been better off if it had never happened.

“It’s left us with a bad feeling about the Church of England I’m afraid. We’ve had a lot of support from members of the public, and I think the majority of the area, but the scary thing is it could happen to anyone, at the moment it doesn’t have to be declared when you’re buying a house.”