Man has to pay £200,000 for not declaring Japanese knotweed

Man sued for selling Japanese knotweed house, fears he may have to sell new house (Image: Champion News Service Ltd)

Jeremy Henderson fears he will now have to sell his new home to cover legal fees (Image: Champion News Service Ltd)

An accountant fears he may have to sell his new home after a £200,000 court bill over Japanese knotweed at his old home.

When 41-year-old Jeremy Henderson sold his £700,000 home in Raynes Park, London, in 2018, he signed a form stating there was no knotweed on the property.

But shortly after moving into his new home, 30-year-old furniture designer Jonathan Downing spotted a piece of knotweed behind the shed in his garden and sued Henderson for false information.

Japanese knotweed is an invasive species notorious for its tendency to spread and cause damage to building structures, as well as the difficulty and expense of getting rid of it.

Henderson had answered “no” to the question on a property information form asking if it was infested with knotweed, with the accountant arguing he “reasonably assumed” he was telling the truth when answering the question .

But during a protracted legal battle between the two men, Tom Carter, representing Mr Downing, told the court: “The defendant could have ticked ‘yes’, ‘not known’ or ‘no’ – by ticking ‘no’ the defendant ruled for positively claiming that there was no knotweed on the property, thereby making a misrepresentation.

Judge Jan Luba, sitting at Central London County Court, ultimately ruled in favor of Mr Downing, awarding Henderson costs and damages totaling more than £200,000.

Henderson must now pay £32,000 in damages and Downing’s legal fees of up to £95,000. His own cost has been estimated at nearly £100,000.

Champion News Service Ltd Tel: 07948286566 / 07914583378 Picture shows the garden prior to the purchase of Jonathan Downing from Jeremy Henderson. Japanese knotweed was found behind the bush to the right of the shed.

A patch of knotweed was spotted behind a bush near the shed (Image: Champion News)

Speaking to the Mail after the trial, Mr Henderson believes he has suffered a “miscarriage of justice” and fears he will now have to sell his new home in Surrey to pay the hefty court bill.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I don’t have the resources to appeal and now I have to figure out how I’m going to pay for those costs and damages,” he said.

“This whole affair has had a devastating effect on the family and has left me and my wife very upset. I just don’t know what to do next because I didn’t do anything wrong.”

He claims things between him and Mr Downing took a turn for the worse from the start when he received an “aggressive” legal letter demanding he pay £16,000 to have the knotweed removed soon after the sale was completed – one Fee that he wished he had paid afterwards.

Mr Henderson says he might have considered sharing the cost of the move if Downing had spoken to him more kindly, but after accusing him of fraud and calling him a liar, Mr Henderson decided to seek legal advice instead.

He also claimed Mr Downing did not have a survey carried out when he bought the property, adding: “The judge simply ignored this very important point.”

“The judge didn’t understand my case at all and didn’t use common sense,” he added.

“This ridiculous decision only encourages ambulances to chase lawyers.”

Champion News Service Ltd. Tel: 07948286566 / 07914583378 Jeremy Henderson outside Central London County Court after hearing the Japanese knotweed dispute with Jonathan Downing.

Mr Henderson has now been forced to pay £200,000 in legal fees (Image: Champion News)

At trial, Mr Henderson claimed the large bush in the garden hid the knotweed and stunted its growth, causing it to shoot up after Mr Downing cut back the bush after moving in.

But the claims were dismissed after the judge heard the knotweed had previously been treated with herbicides and may have once stood at around 2m in height.

In delivering the verdict, Judge Luba said, “Everything revolves around the specific facts of the act of representation and their individual circumstances.

“Mr. Henderson told me under oath that he truly believes there are no Japanese knotweed in his garden.

“He knew what it looked like and he hadn’t seen any in the three years he was there. His mother was an avid gardener and she did not tell him about Japanese knotweed.

“No previous owner had mentioned Japanese knotweed to him, and none of the neighbors had Japanese knotweed in their yard.

Japanese knotweed on moorland by the River Barle in Exmoor National Park in rural Somerset, England, UK; Shutterstock ID 1115259224; Confirmation of the order: -

Japanese knotweed is an invasive species that’s notoriously difficult and expensive to get rid of (Image: Shuttstock)

“Had that evidence stood alone, he would have sufficiently convinced me of his reasonable assumption that there was no Japanese knotweed on his property.”

“I wonder if Mr. Henderson really believed that Japanese knotweed hadn’t infested the property. I am not satisfied that he has carried this burden.

“Even if I’m wrong and he really believed the answer, he hasn’t shown me that he had any reasonable reasons for it.

‘The defendant is liable to the plaintiff in the amount of the agreed damages.’

Mr Henderson now has just 21 days to repay the costs plus damages.

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Justin Scaccy

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