Ramblers scored a landmark legal victory last week as the High Court ordered Somerset millionaire Brian Herrick to remove 8ft iron gates erected across a public footpath on his £3.8-million Barcroft Hall estate at South Petherton, near Yeovil.
The judgment marks the end of a six-year campaign by local resident and keen rambler Peter Kidner to get the gates removed.
Along the way, landowner Herrick incurred legal costs of at least £300,000 and a criminal record, after Somerset County Council prosecuted him for wilful obstruction under the Highways Act.
In the judgment of High Court Justice Cranston: "[T]he public is entitled to use and to enjoy everything which is in law part of a footpath ... the Barcroft Hall gateway prevented public passage and the enjoyment of amenity rights over [the] footpath."
He added: "There is no reason to confine interference to physical interference. An object can get in the way of the right of passage or other amenity rights because of its psychological impact."
General Secretary of the Open Spaces Society Kate Ashbrook believes the case will prove a "landmark" legal victory for ramblers. "It shows that the whole width of the public highway must be available for public use. No longer can landowners and occupiers get away with filching parts of the highway - the highway authority has a legal duty to protect the public's rights over the whole highway."
"We congratulate Peter Kidner for his courage and persistence, and his legal representatives George Laurence QC and Ross Crail for their eloquent legal arguments. They have made a massive difference in clarifying the law for walkers, riders and other path users, to enable us to get illegal obstructions removed from the highway and to exercise our rights fully."