Islington taxpayers’ cash “squandered” in bizarre row between neighbours over Victorian “antique”

Susan Haskins

Susan Haskins - Credit: Archant

Thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash was squandered after two neighbours went to court in a bizarre dispute over a £120 Victorian fireplace frame, it emerged this week.

Susan Haskins

Susan Haskins - Credit: Archant

About £3,000 was spent on legal fees by Islington Council over the bitter three-year spat – which was thrown out by a district judge for being “ridiculous”.

The row saw Susan Haskins and Frederica Agbah, of Wilmington Gardens, Finsbury, who live on top of each other in council-owned accommodation, go head-to-head in a string of hearings spanning six months.

Both claimed ownership of the eighteenth-century, 4ft by 5ft wooden fire frame, but Ms Haskins took the neighbour to court while claiming the beloved 200-year-old item – which she found in a skip – was stolen from her after unexpectedly finding it in Ms Agbah’s flat.

Because both women’s apartments are owned by Islington Council, it was forced to pay thousands of pounds to be represented in court after Ms Haskins refused an offer of £120 for the frame from the local authority.

The 65-year-old art historian said: “I found it in a skip in Holborn in 2007 and gave a builder £10 for it. They were just going to throw it away.

“I then brought it home and stored it in the communal basement, only to find it later disappeared.

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“Then I found it in 2010 in Ms Agbah’s living room. But when I asked for it back she said she liked it because her cards looked pretty on it.

“The thing is so precious, it’s the symbolism. It’s historic. I paid for it so I feel it is mine.”

Speaking of the final court hearing in May, she added: “But the judge asked me, ‘why do you care about this?’, and thought I was ridiculous and threw it out because he thought it wasn’t worth the court’s time. I feel totally devastated having rescued it.”

Two men had been living in the neighbour’s flat before works were carried out and there is no suggestion Ms Agbah, 45, stole the fire frame.

The case, which began in December, brings an end to a three-year row with Ms Agbah keeping the fire frame after the case’s dismissal.

Islington Council later even offered Ms Haskins £220 for the antique, but had to pay legal fees to be represented in the hearing from December to May.

A council source said: “The whole thing never should have got to court in the first place. Surely it could have been sorted out somehow?

“At the end of the day, it’s thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash here which has been squandered.”

Cllr James Murray, executive member for housing, said:“This is a case that we never thought should have ended up in court because of the cost to the taxpayer.

“The judge did not uphold Ms Haskins’ claim. He did suggest that she should accept the good will gesture previously offered to her by the council of a sum to cover the cost of a new fireplace surround, in the hope that this would provide an end to the matter.”