War veteran, 94, faces £3,000 bill in Chailey church dispute

Robert Tillard: 'Very disappointed' at the outcome
Robert Tillard: 'Very disappointed' at the outcome

A 94-year-old man faces a hefty legal bill and has been strongly criticised for challenging internal changes at the church where he worships.

War veteran Robert Tillard objected to the removal of some of the pews from St Peter’s Church, Chailey, and the enclosure of part of the north aisle with a glazed screen so it can be used as a chapel and meeting place.

The matter was the subject of a Consistory Court hearing in November and judgment was last week delivered by Robin Hopkins, Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of Chichester, who has allowed the alterations.

Mr Tillard has been ordered to reimburse the petitioners, the Parochial Church Council, with 50 per cent of the incremental court costs attributable to the dispute progressing to an oral hearing instead of the petition being decided by way of written objections only.

He is also liable for 50 per cent of the petitioners’ counsel’s fees.

Mr Hopkins said: “This is because of my findings as to his motivation for seeking an oral hearing, his failure to comply with the court’s directions, his reliance on irrelevant issues and his adoption of a stance that effectively precluded compromise without an oral hearing.”

The judgment said Mr Tillard had repeatedly used “inflammatory and at times deliberately denigrating language”.

It said: “He has described one representative of the petitioners as a ‘church toady’ ... he has repeatedly accused the petitioners of ‘disgraceful hostility’ and ‘unchristian behaviour’.

Mr Hopkins said: “At the hearing, Mr Tillard also embarked upon a speech in which he traduced the now recently retired Priest-in-Charge, John Miller-Maskell, on grounds that appeared to have no direct relevance to the petition.

“I find that all of this conduct by Mr Tillard was unreasonable. I also find that Mr Tillard’s approach to the proceedings has been motivated or at the very least coloured by personal animus.”

The judgment said his “unreasonable conduct ... has been unpleasant and, in certain circumstances, distressing to some of those involved.”

It said: “Mr Tillard’s unreasonable animus and intransigence made a contested oral hearing almost inevitable, when it might otherwise have been avoidable.”

Mr Tillard, who has lived in Chailey for 80 years, this week said he was “very disappointed” at the judgment. He claimed the hearing was “a travesty” because as many as 140 votes opposing the interior changes had not been taken into consideration. He said the legal costs would amount to nearly £3,000 but he was “too old and too tired” to appeal.