A couple on the Isle of Lewis have had their claim for compensation dismissed following the impregnation of one of their accredited Highland cows by a neighbours' bull.
For a number of years, Mr Allen (Pursuer, along with Mrs Allen) and Mr Hargreaves (Defender, along with Mrs Hargreaves) were tenants of neighbouring crofts on the Isle of Lewis. Mr Allen farmed sheep and Mr Hargreaves farmed cattle.
In 2005, Mr Allen purchased Highland cattle. By 2008, his cattle had become fully accredited under the Premium Cattle Health Scheme operated by the Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) UK. Meanwhile, Mr Hargreaves kept non-accredited Belted Galloway cattle on his neighbouring croft.
Relations between the parties at this time were convivial but later broke down due to a dispute over responsibility for the maintenance of the fence between their respective crofts. In 2007, Mr Allen applied to the Scottish Land Court for an order forcing Mr Hargreaves to accept responsibility for maintenance of the boundary fence. The Land Court heard evidence that crofters in that area had an understanding whereby they would maintain their north fence where it abutted their neighbour to the north. The Land Court considered this to be a sensible arrangement and that it was "incumbent" on Mr Allen to maintain the fence. The Land Court refused to make an order against Mr Hargraves to maintain the fence and Mr Allen's subsequent appeal of the Land Court's decision was also refused.
Despite the Land Court's refusal to grant an order against Mr Hargreaves and the view expressed by the Land Court that Mr Allen was responsible for maintaining the fence, Mr Allen refused to repair and maintain the fence. As a result, Mr Allen's cattle crossed into Mr Hargreaves' property and vice versa. Mr Hargreaves erected an electric fence to prevent cattle crossing between the properties but alleged that the electric fence was cut on around 18 separate occasions rendering it ineffective.
In or around October 2009, Mr Hargreaves' bull impregnated one of Mr Allen's Highland cows. There was clear evidence about whether this occurred on Mr Allen or Mr Hargreaves' croft. Following this, a Belted Galloway-cross calf was born. The calf was raised by Mr and Mrs Allen and was later sold for £500. In her evidence, Mrs Allen claimed that a pedigree calf would have achieved a sum of between £1,100 and £1,200.
The Court also heard that, between July and September 2010, a Highland bull, Calum Ruadh, which was being kept on Mr and Mrs Allen's croft entered Mr Hargreaves' croft and "engaged in a scrap" with his Belted Galloway bull, Ozzie, causing him injury.
In 2012, Mr and Mrs Allen raised a court action at Stornoway Sheriff Court against Mr and Mrs Hargreaves based on breach of their duty to maintain the boundary fence and the damage inflicted to the fence by Mr and Mrs Hargreaves' bull. Mr and Mrs Allen reportedly sought damages of over £20,000.
In his written judgement, Sheriff Sutherland stated that, while the action had been raised on the basis of damage inflicted by Mr and Mrs Hargreaves' bull, "it became clear during the course of the case that it was a neighbour dispute as opposed to anything else."
The Sheriff opined "[Mrs Allen's] evidence was not as credible or reliable as I would have wished and while I have no doubt that she was extremely distressed by the whole situation, this does not excuse coming to court and presenting a case which is, at the best, exaggerated and unreliable."
Instead, Sheriff Sutherland preferred the evidence of Mr and Mrs Hargreaves that "while their cattle did go onto the crofts belonging to the pursuers, nonetheless that was only because of the state of repair of the fence which Mr Allen was responsible for."
He concluded that "any loss or damage claimed by the pursuers is as a result of the first pursuers' [Mr and Mrs Allen's] failure to erect and maintain a fence between crofts 17 and 18 and not as a result of any fault or negligence of the defenders."
Sheriff Sutherland was also critical of the lack of evidence to prove the value of Mr and Mrs Allen's claim and stated that: "There were no bank accounts, business accounts or receipts. I was being shown estimates but no receipts for the work carried out and claimed for."
For these reasons, Sheriff Sutherland did not consider that the pursuers had proved their case and accordingly granted a court order absolving Mr and Mrs Hargreaves of liability and granted the expenses of the court action in their favour.
The decision in Allen v Hargreaves reinforces the entrenched legal principle that the onus is on the pursuer to prove his or her case. The success of a pursuer's claim depends upon the evidence presented to the court to substantiate the claim (which is often oral evidence given in the course of a court hearing). This case is a cursory warning to pursuers that a case based on oral evidence which is thought to be "exaggerated" or "unreliable" will not be entertained by the court.