Club Cricket Conference

Wednesday, 22nd May 2024

Lintz precedent gives hope to threatened Kenilworth

By Charles Randall

23 May 2018

Kenilworth CC have started their Warwickshire County League season knowing that a housing estate is to be built on green belt land adjoining their ground.

When the buildings have been completed, life will never be the same again for the cricket club.  A lovely rural vista will have disappeared, and the issue of safety will rear its ugly head.

Warwickshire District  Council gave outline planning permission in April, so that the number of  houses the  developers propose to squeeze into the area will be scrutinised later. The timing, just before the start of the cricket season, cast a shadow for the Kenilworth club. They even wondered what the future might hold if the safety of new residents could not be guaranteed.

Fortunately  the developers have a responsibility to make sure that house-building does not creep too close to the cricket in accordance with the ruling from Miller v Jackson, a sad case decided by the Court of Appeal in 1977 that rescued Lintz CC from oblivion.

These days Lintz, based at Burnopfield on the edge of Newcastle, happily compete in Division One of the Northumberland & Tyneside League and they run five youth and three adult teams. But the club's survival hung by a thread when ruthless developers built houses on council land close to a short straight boundary in the mid 1970s.

Bob Jackson, now chairman of the Durham County Board, was named on the court papers in his role as Lintz chairman when  a husband and wife, the Millers, sued for £10,000 damages, demanding an end to all cricket on that field. That would be worth eight or nine times in today's money.

Jackson recalled this week how the court action infuriated the local community. "The locals were heavily on our side," he said. "We had difficulty controlling the anger in the village."

Support for the club was overwhelming.  As one example,  a member of the rival Burnopfield CC - England batsman Colin Milburn's old club - pressed £50 into Jackson's hand when they met in the street to bolster a fighting fund when the appeal was launched in the 15 months before the case was heard in London.

A key figure was the local Ford car franchise dealer, who supplied a brand new car for raffle, which raised £13,000. That proved to be more than enough to cover legal fees, and the surplus was donated to the Test and County Cricket Board, the ECB predecessors. From that money a coaching film was made.

Lintz, founded in 1905, had to erect a 55ft high net to protect nearby gardens and houses, and they took other safety precautions. There have never been any injuries recorded.

These days Lintz have a local builder on standby to replace the half-dozen roof tiles broken each season the following day. The club even kept a large stock of matching tiles until the pile was eventually used up.  "The damage is usually done by top edges rather than drives, which tend to be caught by the netting," Jackson commented. "We are on excellent terms with our neighbours. There are arrangements for retrieving the ball, and it all works well."

When the first decision went against  Jackson,  the judge hinted that the case should go to  the Court of Appeal, and it so happened that one of the three appeal judges was the cricket-loving Lord Denning. The Lintz members endured more than a year of stress while the club's existence remained in doubt. Their long-serving secretary John Cromarty died from a heart attack brought on by the Appeal case.

The Miller v Jackson two-one ruling cost Lintz some damages, but cricket was not stopped.  The precedent probably saved many cricket clubs from folding, and Kenilworth could draw some strength, provided they take precautions to minimise risk.

Andy Smith, the Kenilworth secretary, said he was unsure what the future held. "It’s the biggest thing that’s going to impact the club in its 115-year history," he said. "We’ve been on that ground for 94 years. This is going to irreversibly affect the area around the club."

It is worth recalling Lord Denning's words. He noted that Lintz had acted reasonably, adding that the developers should not have built houses so close to a small ground. He admonished the aggressive attitude of the plaintiffs.  "Every offer by the club has been rejected," he said. "They demand the closing down of the cricket club. Nothing else will satisfy them. They have obtained legal aid to sue the cricket club."

Lord Denning added that  the plaintiffs relied on the words of Lord Reid in Bolton v Stone, decided in 1951, that 'if cricket cannot be played on a ground without creating a substantial risk, then it should not be played there at all.'

Denning commented: "I would agree with that saying if the houses or road was there first, and the cricket ground came there second. We would not allow the garden of Lincoln's Inn to be turned into a cricket ground. It would be too dangerous for windows and people. But I would not agree with Lord Reid's dictum when the cricket ground has been there for 70 years and the houses are newly built at the very edge of it.

"I recognise that the cricket club are under a duty to use all reasonable care consistently with the playing of the game of cricket, but I do not think the cricket club can be expected to give up the game of cricket altogether. After all they have their rights in their cricket ground."

Soon after the final decision the despised Millers moved away. Part of Lord Denning's speech was framed and hung on the wall of the Lintz clubhouse as a reminder of a dark episode in the village's history.