Apprentice star in £200k legal battle after neighbour falls into hole dug to fix damp

Mr Britez's property (left) in south London
Mr Britez's property (left) in south London with the narrow passway seen between the two homes (Image credit: Google)

A former The Apprentice contestant may face a £200k legal bill after a legal row with a neighbour over a hole between his home and theirs.

Alexander Britez, who was on the seventh series of Alan Sugar's entrepreneur reality show, lost a court battle sparked after his neighbour’s stepfather fell into the trench.

Neighbours David and Isabel O'Brien laid claim to the narrow passageway where the hole was located, but estate agent Mr Britez argued in court that it was half his, according to reports.

How did the neighbour’s stepdad fall into the trench?

During the trial at Central London's County Court in July, the judge heard that Mr Britez has lived at the house in Westwood Park, Forest Hill, south London for a long time. It previously belonged to his mother.

Mrs O'Brien's stepfather fell into the 3ft deep "ragged trench" along the side of Mr Britez's hillside house in Westwood Park, Forest Hill, south London. He suffered cuts and bruises.

The court heard the O'Briens told him it was 'dangerous' when they moved there in 2015, but the former contestant didn’t fill it in and subsequently the elderly stepfather fell in while walking through the passageway between the front and back of the house. 

Why was there a trench between the houses?

The hole was dug out in the thin passageway to treat damp in the home before Mr Britez owned it in 2007. It is difficult to know what caused damp, both properties are built on a steep hill, with Mr Britez’s home sited lower than his neighbours’ house.

Barrister Howard Smith, on behalf of the O’Briens, said Mr Britez was 'wholly unreasonable' about the issue.

"Mr Britez and his mum insisted that it remains open. The consequence is that the surface of the passage is now very narrow, and is dangerous," he said. "Something needs to be done. Mr and Mrs O'Brien wish to be able to use the passage safely, as it was used for very many years."

He accused Mr Britez of being "wholly unreasonable" in his approach to the row, refusing to negotiate a solution that didn't involve leaving the hole open.

What did the judge rule?

Recorder Cheryl Jones said Mr Britez and his mother, Mary Britez, who had the hole dug, had been "completely uncooperative" during attempts to resolve the issue.

“This dispute is over a very narrow strip of land between two residential properties. Although very small, vanishingly so in places, it is not a trivial matter for either of them," she said. “In the case of the claimants, it determines whether or not they have easy and safe access to the rear of their property, whilst Mr Britez considers it to be essential for the control of a damp problem. Regrettably, they have found themselves unable to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.”

She found it was more likely that a previous agreement found Mr Britez's house was the boundary between the properties and the passageway belongs to the O'Briens, as it would have ensured the O'Briens' house could access the rear of the property.

She ordered Mr Britez to pick up the lawyers' bills for the trial. Mr Britez was ordered to pay £55,000 upfront for the O'Briens' costs, an estimated £100,000.

His own lawyers' bills are estimated at a similar amount, for a total cost of about £200,000.

Sam Webb

Sam is based in Coventry and has been a news reporter for nearly 20 years. His work has featured in the Mirror, The Sun, MailOnline, the Independent, and news outlets throughout the world.  As a copywriter, he has written for clients as diverse as Saint-Gobain, Michelin, Halfords Autocentre, Great British Heating, and Irwin Industrial Tools. During the pandemic, he converted a van into a mini-camper and is currently planning to convert his shed into an office and Star Wars shrine.