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   Home      J A Pye (Oxford) Ltd v Graham

J A Pye (Oxford) Ltd v Graham [2002] 3 WLR 221

Pye owned Henwick manor and a substantial amount of land. In 1977 he sold off the farmhouse and some of the land and retained the disputed land, which consisted of four fields, with a view to develop it in the future. There was an agreement with the buyer of the farmhouse to graze on the disputed land. In 1982 The Grahams purchased the farmhouse and in 1983 entered an annual grazing agreement in respect of the disputed land for which they paid £2,000. The following year, Pye refused to renew the agreement as he wished to apply for planning permission and thought it would be easier if the land was not in use. The Grahams were asked to vacate the land at the end of the agreement. However, the Grahams continued to occupy the land which was fully enclosed and the gate padlocked with a key being held by the Grahams. Pye never did apply for planning permission. The Grahams continued to use the land and the following year requested a new agreement but this was not accepted. The Grahams continued to use the land and gave up seeking to communicate with Pye as he was getting no reply to any correspondence. In 1999 Pye issued proceedings  to gain possession of the land.


Pye’s claim was defeated by adverse possession of the Grahams.The Grahams were in factual possession of the land as  they were in occupation and had exclusive physical control. Pye was physically excluded from the land by the hedges and lack of key. They farmed the land in the exact way they farmed their own land. By remaining in possession and using the land in the way they thought best they had demonstrated an intention to possess. The fact that the Grahams were aware of Pye's intended use of the property did not prevent them having the requisite intention to possess. The law on adverse possession does not infringe the European Convention of Human Rights..

Lord Brown Wilkinson:

"It is clearly established that the taking or continuation of possession by a squatter with the actual consent of the paper title owner does not constitute dispossession or possession by the squatter for the purposes of the Act. Beyond that, as Slade J said, the words possess and dispossess are to be given their ordinary meaning.  It is sometimes said that ouster by the squatter is necessary to constitute dispossession: see for example per Fry J in Rains v Buxton (1880) 14 Ch D 537 at p 539. The word "ouster" is derived from the old law of adverse possession and has overtones of confrontational, knowing removal of the true owner from possession. Such an approach is quite incorrect. There will be a "dispossession" of the paper owner in any case where (there being no discontinuance of possession by the paper owner) a squatter assumes possession in the ordinary sense of the word. Except in the case of joint possessors, possession is single and exclusive. Therefore if the squatter is in possession the paper owner cannot be. If the paper owner was at one stage in possession of the land but the squatter's subsequent occupation of it in law constitutes possession the squatter must have "dispossessed" the true owner for the purposes of Schedule 1 para 1: seeTreloar v Nute [1976] 1 WLR 1295, 1300; Professor Dockray (supra). Therefore in the present case the relevant question can be narrowed down to asking whether the Grahams were in possession of the disputed land, without the consent of Pye, before 30 April 1986. If they were, they will have "dispossessed" Pye within the meaning of paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act.

…there are two elements necessary for legal possession:

1.  a sufficient degree of physical custody and control ("factual possession");

2.  an intention to exercise such custody and control on one's own behalf and for one's own benefit ("intention to possess")."

Back to lecture outline on adverse possession in land law