Feathers fly in Harrogate stately home owner’s court battle with neighbours

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A frozen food magnate who carried out a lavish renovation of Winsley Hurst Hall, near Harrogate is embroiled in a court battle with his neighbours after clearing an area of nearby foliage used for a pheasant shoot.

Jason Fuller, 47, bought the run-down property last year and has since spent large sums of money restoring it. But he says he and his partner have been “taunted” with a campaign of harassment after he ruffled neighbours’ feathers by removing foliage on prime shooting land.

Diana Kitzing, who has shooting rights on land coming right up to the edge of Mr Fuller’s rolling lawn and ditch boundary, known as a ‘ha-ha’, denies the accusation.

She says the business tycoon has caused irreparable harm to the shoot by “denuding” woodland, leaving a “killing ground” where game birds are easy prey for hawks.

And her lawyers claim Mr Fuller has even used two petrol-driven leaf blowers, creating a “wall of sound” which drives pheasants away the day before her shooting parties.

Mrs Kitzing’s family have lived in the village of Burnt Yates for generations and she was one of the estate trustees from whom he bought the sprawling Victorian mansion.

Mr Fuller is joint boss of his 130-year-old family business, Leeds-based Fuller Foods International, and is believed to be worth more than £20 million.

Mrs Kitzing, whose son Mark manages the shoot and lives on the estate, has taken Mr Fuller to court, demanding an injunction barring him from interfering with her sporting rights.

But he claims he and his partner, Katy Van Pugh, “have been the subject of a campaign of harassment by Mrs Kitzing, her son Mark, and to a lesser extent Mr Kitzing’s wife, Bethany”.

He says they are driven by “some kind of jealousy or animosity” and that the Kitzings are determined to interfere in the management of his own estate and make him “defer” to them. Matters have got so bad, he claims, that he and Miss Van Pugh, have considered selling up and leaving, despite the vast sum spent on restoring the hall to its former glory.

His harassment claims are, however, dismissed by the Kitzings, who have accused Mr Fuller of “razing” woodland ground cover, giving pheasants nowhere to hide.

Laurels, rhododendrons and trees have been lopped or scrubbed up, leaving game birds at the mercy of hovering raptors, Judge David Hodge QC was told.

But Mr Fuller insists he has caused no harm to the shoot, and that he he has sensibly managed his estate by clearing dense vegetation, allowing the woodland to breathe and regenerate.

The shoot is held on around 15 autumn and winter days a year by Mrs Kitzing, her family and friends, and by a number of local residents, the High Court heard.

The Kitzings say they have every right to complain about Mr Fuller’s ground cover clearance work and its impact on the shoot.

But he claims to have suffered “close to a hundred” acts of harassment at the Kitzings’ hands since buying the hall in February last year.

Miss Van Pugh had to visit a doctor with “stress-related symptoms” due to their - and specifically Mark Kitzing’s - behaviour, Mr Fuller told the court.

The case reached court as Mrs Kitzing, a teacher, sought a wide-ranging court order barring Mr Fuller from activities which might interfere with the shoot.

Refusing Mrs Kitzing’s application, he added: “The terms of the injunction sought would be oppressive to Mr Fuller.

He emphasised that he was “making no findings” about the merits of Mr Fuller’s harassment and intimidation claims.

But he said: “The grant of an injunction will have a stifling and intimidating effect upon Mr Fuller which is simply not justified on the evidence”.