West Row: Mildenhall Stadium could close after Supreme Court judgement leaves it facing massive legal bill
PUBLISHED: 10:32 27 February 2014 | UPDATED: 10:32 27 February 2014
The future of one of west Suffolk’s biggest sports stadiums has been plunged into doubt after a landmark ruling from the highest court in the land left its owners facing a legal bill worth up to £2million.
The Supreme Court yesterday ruled in favour of Katherine Lawrence and Raymond Shields after a six-year legal battle with Mildenhall Stadium - home of the Mildenhall Fen Tigers.
The couple moved to a house just 560 metres from the stadium in 2006, and began legal proceedings two years later over disruption noise from the stadium was causing.
The debate has since been heard in three courtrooms - the High Court ruled in favour of Ms Lawrence and Mr Shields in 2011, but this ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal. However, yesterday’s verdict restored the original High Court judgement.
Dave Coventry, one of the stadium’s owners, said its future was now in doubt due to the restrictions that could be placed on the stadium and the potential legal costs, which the 59-year-old believed could run close to £2m.
He said yesterday his reaction was “between disbelief and dismay”, adding: “We never anticipated losing at the Supreme Court having won unanimously at appeal.
“I don’t understand how we can have no complaints from anyone for 30 years, and then this happens. There will be public outcry.
“This is the end of what we’ve worked for since we left school. All the money we’ve accumulated over the years, it’s in one pot. The impact will be unbelievable.”
As well as being entitled to £20,000 in damages from the stadium operators, Ms Lawrence and Mr Shields can also implement an injunction on activities at the stadium should their home ever be rebuilt, having been destroyed by fire in June 2010.
Fifty-one people work at the stadium, while a number of local businesses rely on its activities for work. As well as speedway meetings, the stadium hosts banger, stock car and greyhound racing.
Mildenhall Fen Tigers chairman Ken Jolly said yesterday the ruling was a “big disappointment”, but that it was business as usual for the time being.
He said: “As far as we are concerned nothing changes with regard to Mildenhall Speedway, and we will continue to run until it is no longer possible, should that day ever arrive.
“This is obviously a big disappointment for the stadium owners, who had hoped today would bring an end to this matter and remove a cloud that has been hanging over the stadium before we took over the running of the Fen Tigers.
“Everything is in place for the start of the season. We are looking forward to this year with great enthusiasm.”
Mr Coventry mentioned a case involving Naomi Campbell and the Daily Mirror newspaper, where the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the payment of disproportionate legal bills compared to costs, but he did not yet know if this was a viable option.
He said: “I’m trying to take it all in, trying to comprehend what’s happened and grab some glimmer of hope from a dark day. We’ll just carry on running our business for as long as possible.
“In a nutshell, there will be two reasons the stadium could close - the restrictions are finally imposed, which are unworkable. Secondly, it’s the costs. The costs are going to be the issue that directs whether we’re going to continue or not.”