It started as a simple dispute between neighbours over who was allowed to feed a fluffy grey cat called Ozzy.
But it ended up a bitter six-year row, culminating in a court battle which cost up to £24,000.
Ozzy’s owners, Jackie and John Hall, have now secured a promise from top landscape gardener Nicola Lesbirel that she will stop feeding their cat and trying to lure him away.
Jackie Hall (left) accused Nicola Lesbirel (right, outside Central London County Court), 57, of adopting Ozzy as her own and even putting a collar displaying her phone number on him
Ms Lesbirel lives in a £560,000 flat down the road to the Hall’s £2.3million home in London
Mrs Hall, a psychotherapist, and her husband, a managing director, initially thought Miss Lesbirel was being friendly when she spoke about their cat. But when she removed his collar nine times – and replaced it with one displaying her own phone number – they became alarmed.
Ms Lesbirel (pictured outside court) claimed she had been wrongly painted as the ‘mad neighbour caught up in feline fantasises’
The couple also said Miss Lesbirel, who denies being a ‘neurotic cat maniac’, had a cat flap in her door – despite not having a cat.
The case was due to be heard in a trial at Central London County Court, but after negotiations the neighbours settled when Miss Lesbirel made a series of legally-binding promises to restrict her interaction with Ozzy. The row ran up legal bills of over £24,000.
The saga took place on an exclusive street in Hammersmith, west London, where the Halls, both 56, and their two sons and one daughter live in terraced house worth around £2.5million. Miss Lesbirel, 57, who won gold at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2004, lives down the road in a £900,000 garden flat.
She said she first started talking to Mrs Hall in 2003 when she came across a previous cat of hers, Coco.
The Halls bought Ozzy, a pedigree Maine Coon, for £500 for their daughter Martha’s birthday in 2014.
Tom Weisselberg QC, who acted unpaid for the Halls, said Miss Lesbirel began inveigling herself into the cat’s life.
A barrister for Ms Lesbirel (pictured) said she did not intend to deprive the Halls of the cat and that her behaviour in feeding and caring for him was acceptable
Ms Lesbirel insisted she did nothing wrong in giving food to free-roaming Maine Coon cat Ozzy
Nicola Lesbirel, pictured in the Laurent-Perrier and Harpers and Queen garden, co-designed with Sir Terence Conran, as she won an RHS Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2004
When Ozzy returned from long absences, he had been ‘fed, groomed and cared for by someone else’. The family fitted Ozzy with a GPS collar tracked by satellite in November 2015, to confirm their neighbour was the culprit.
The QC said the couple first found Ozzy’s collar removed in August 2018, and replaced with another with the words ‘my home’ and Miss Lesbirel’s number. The Halls removed it, but said between October and December it happened another eight times.
Amid heated letters and emails, Miss Lesbirel claimed Ozzy was a ‘fixture’ in her home, saying: ‘He is very loved and well cared for and he is very attached to his territory, and to me. Surely leaving him where he is determined to be is the best thing for everyone, feline and human.’
Mrs Hall responded by writing: ‘He is not your cat and we are not just giving him over to you. The question we all have asked ourselves year after year is: “Why doesn’t Nicola just get her own cat?”’
Ms Lesbirel lives in a £560,000 home (centre left) in Hammersmith, West London
Mr and Mrs Hall live in a £2.3million property (centre) on the same road in Hammersmith
But Miss Lesbirel’s barrister Richard Bottomley argued she had simply felt ‘duty-bound’ to care for him, adding: ‘The cat is a sentient being and as such goes where he pleases.’
Miss Lesbirel said the £24,000 she spent on legal proceedings had exhausted her life savings.
The case has been compared to the Six Dinner Sid children’s books by Inga Moore
The case relied on a precedent from the first Gulf War, in which Kuwait Airways successfully sued Iraqi Airways for repainting and appropriating its planes.
Mr Hall said of the saga: ‘We tried reason. We went to the police, but they could not use theft as it could not be proved she intended to permanently deprive us of Ozzy. The council wouldn’t help.
‘So we had to use “the tort of conversion”, which dates back centuries, involves the Iraq war, and relates to use of other people’s chattels. We were stunned she carried on as long as she did.’
Miss Lesbirel, who claimed Ozzy had just wandered into her garden and made it his own, said: ‘For some reason the Halls were determined to break my relationship with Ozzy. There’s been some angry shouting.
‘But I’m not a neurotic cat maniac. I’ve read about old ladies who fantasise about cats and adopt them. That’s not me.’
The cat roamed around this road in Hammersmith, West London, between the two houses