A JUDGE said yesterday he believed new evidence in the wrangle over the ownership of a £1m-plus house in North Oxford pointed to a “sinister” forgery attempt.
The eviction hearing resumed at Bicester Magistrates’ Court after more than two years of legal wrangling and abandoned hearings.
The case has been brought by Nigerian Abbey Folami, who is trying to evict tenants Philip Brown and Keiron Halstead from 17 Warnborough Road in North Oxford.
The 47-year-old claims he legally bought the property in 2007 for £108,000 by leasing some land in Nigeria in a deal with the nephew of the Nigerian chief who owned the property originally.
But Recorder Alastair Wilson was yesterday presented with a document purporting to be a lease agreement found by the Metropolitan police in a Kidlington flat in 2011, which was nearly identical to one supplied by Mr Folami to prove his ownership of the house.
Abbey Folami claims he is the owner
He noted the only difference was a witness signature on the document Mr Folami supplied him as evidence – which was believed to have been sent from Nigeria – that was missing from the ‘new’ version.
Recorder Wilson said: “The question arises how such a document could be in England, signed by Mr Folami, with government stamps but without a witness signature.
“On the face of it, it is inevitable for the moment that this document can’t be anything other than an early stage in the preparation of a forgery.”
He also questioned the presence of what appeared to be Nigerian government stamps, describing it as “sinister”.
Recorder Wilson added: “This document isn’t something that could lawfully have come into existence.
“It must be some sort of forgery.”
He was asked by Richard Devereux-Cooke, representing Mr Folami, to disregard the new document because it had been served by the defendants’ legal team too late.
But Recorder Wilson told him: “This is such a devastating document that it would be quite wrong to ignore it, because we could be perpetuating an injustice.
“It shows the foundation, or at least a very important plank, in your client’s case is a forgery.”
Philip Brown, above, who is a tenant of the house along with Kieron Halstead, below
Mr Folami then took the stand and said he had no way of explaining the new document, but that focusing on it was “making a mountain out of a molehill”.
Chief Obasola Atobatele was the previous owner of the house but died in June 1989.
Mr Folami argues the property was transferred to the chief‘s brother in 1987 and then nephew Joshua Atobatele in 2002, who subsequently sold it on to him.
John Clargo, representing the tenants, said that a number of documents presented during the case, including a birth certificate, were suspected to be forgeries.
He said: “My case is the 1987 transfer isn’t real. It is a forgery and there never was a transfer of the property, in 1987 or at any other time.”
The tenants have had other legal proceedings pending under which they claim there is no rightful owner, in the hope the property will pass to them because they have lived there for more than 12 years, under a system called adverse possession.
The case is expected to conclude tomorrow.
How events have unfolded:
1977 Chief Obasola Atobatele buys 17 Warnborough Road from St John’s College for £15,500
1987 Phil Brown moves into the house. This is also when Abbey Folami claims the chief sold it
1989 Chief Atobatele dies
1994 Kieron Halstead also moves into the house
1996 They are contacted by solicitors on behalf of Lucinda Atobatele, the chief’s daughter, asking who they had been paying their rent to. She has since died
2007 Mr Brown and Mr Halstead are contacted by Mr Folami’s solicitors, who produce a death certificate for a man called Obasola Atobatele, and claim he is now the rightful owner.
February 2012 The case is taken to Oxford County Court but the hearing is put on hold for eight weeks so documents can be obtained from Nigeria
November 2012 The hearings start again but halt after a few days when a man claiming to be the son of Chief Atobatele interrupts proceedings claiming to have important evidence
February 2013 The hearings resume but are stopped after only one day when property developer Martin Young, a friend of Mr Brown and Mr Halstead, obtains a court order from Brentford Magistrates Court to release documents held by the Metropolitan Police relating to a separate case, which involves two people who have “featured” in the Folami case.