A WITNESS has told a public hearing in Carlisle that a legal letter initially made her wish to withdraw her statement.

Tuesday (November 28) saw the start of the second week of the hearing organised by the Planning Inspectorate.

It concerns a number footpaths in woodland near the village of Hayton, near Brampton, which were thought to be open to the public by local residents but the landowner, Roxlena, claims the area is private land and they should not be, and never have been, classed as public rights of way.

In 2021, the former Cumbria County Council declared a total of 18 footpaths and one bridleway at the site to by public rights of way and the landowner objected which led to the hearing which this week is being held at Cumbria House.

At times it has been described as a “David and Goliath” battle by a number of supporters of the footpaths after a number of them allegedly received letters from solicitors acting on behalf of the landowners, which claimed they could be liable for legal costs.

Sue Thomson, who lives in nearby Talkin, told Kathryn Saward, the inspector leading the hearing, she had previously withdrawn her statement after receiving such a letter which alleged there was a “possibility that legal costs could be claimed”.

She described the claim as a “threat” and said that she had no way of knowing how realistic it was that she could be liable for any costs.

However, Ms Thomson said she felt it was an important matter which was why she decided to give evidence on Tuesday.

She said she moved to Talkin in 1995 and she regularly used the network of footpaths in the woods near Hayton.

Ms Thomson named one of the public footpaths which was known locally as “Thief Street”. She said: “By 2000 it became a regular destination for me.”

She said that she always used footpaths which were clearly defined and in 2010 she remembered that wire fencing and signs declaring the area to be private property were placed around the woodland.

Ms Thomson said that, up until that point, she did not regard herself as a trespasser and added: “I can only remember on one occasion where one stretch was closed for felling operations.”

Catherine Allan told the inspector that she had lived in Brampton for nearly 50 years and she had used the footpaths in the woods since the early 1980s.

In addition she said she had kept dairies, which detailed her walks there and noted the plants and birds she observed, until the current landowner closed the woods.

She said she did not remember the man responsible for the upkeep of the woods who was mentioned by an earlier witness but admitted this could be because she was not a local resident of Hayton.

Mrs Allan said she did not visit the area during the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 and added: “There’d be a gap in my diary when we no longer walked on the footpaths and had to use roads.”

The hearing is expected to finish on Thursday, December 7, and Ms Saward is expected to deliver her verdict after considering all the evidence.