7 Apr, 2023 @ 17:25
3 mins read

Nightmare border dispute with policeman’s family leads expat to sell up and flee remote mountain region in Spain’s Granada

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AN expat has been forced to sell her country home after taking a neighbouring landowner to court for assaulting her.

Human rights campaigner Sarah Hermitage was left sprawled in the dirt after tangling with Vicente Gonzalez, 66, and his Guardia Civil son in September 2020.

A video shows the terrifying moment the British expat, 69, was thrown to the ground, as she tried to remove fence posts illegally installed on her land in inland Granada.

A trial that took over two years to come to Motril court eventually found Gonzalez guilty of assault and various claims against Hermitage thrown out.

However, despite her victory, Hermitage, a human rights lawyer, told the Olive Press she has been forced to sell up and move after the ‘threats, bullying and intimidation’ continued.

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The flashpoint flared up when Hermitage went to remove posts illegally put up on her land, leading to neighbouring landowner Vicente Gonzalez assaulting Sarah while his off-duty Guardia Civil son threatened to arrest Hermitage’s friend who filmed the encounter

“It’s very remote and like the Wild West up there,” the anti-corruption campaigner insisted.

“When I first showed them my title deeds to my land they threw it on the floor. I then told them I would pull the poles out if they put them in again.”

Hermitage had moved with her husband to a charming, four-bedroom, 20 acre country farmhouse near the isolated village of Guajar Alto in 2014, to retire.

It came after the lawyer and her late husband were forced to flee Tanzania at gunpoint on the back of facing death threats and violence over another land dispute.

But, within months of her husband passing in 2019, things started to turn sour once again.

It quickly became clear that Gonzalez and his family held undue sway in the mountainous area, running the local water authority.

When Hermitage complained about a loud water pump generator installed illegally by a river, things heated up.

A few months later, the fallout intensified when Gonzalez decided he owned part of her land and tried to fence it off to plant avocados.

Sarah Hermitage House
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Hermitage’s home near the tiny village of Gaujar Alto was on 20 acres of land clearly marked out by the property deeds and home to 500 olive trees

“It was completely clear who owned the land as I had the escritura and deeds, which clearly marked the boundaries,” she told the Olive Press.

“I obviously made that clear via friends and a lawyer but he just wouldn’t listen.”

When in January 2020 she woke up to find a fence going in, she decided she had to act.

With a friend coming along to record the conversation she began to remove the posts, throwing them into a ravine in front of the Gonzalez workers.

A red rag to a bull, a dramatic video shows the moment Gonzalez aggressively drives up to Hermitage at speed along their shared track, only narrowly avoiding hitting her.

A physical altercation quickly ensues between Hermitage and Gonzalez, who recently retired from the forestry department in Granada.

Happier Moments In Africa
Hermitage during happier times with her late husband Stewart, who passed away in 2019

Within moments Gonzalez’s son, a serving Guardia Civil officer, joined the row to help his father.

While Hermitage ends up on the floor, the son aggressively pursues Sarah’s friend who is filming the encounter.

In angry Spanish, the off-duty cop threatens to arrest her if she does not stop recording. He appears to push her away.

According to Hermitage, she had already been assaulted by Gonzalez a previous time when he had tried to install fencing on her land to protect his illegally planted avocado trees.

In total, it took over two years for the Court of Motril to hear her case against the former forestry worker, who was found guilty of aggression and fined €90. 

A judge meanwhile, twice threw out claims by Gonzalez that she had illegally removed the posts.

“Those who were mandated to protect me – the police, the Guardia Civil, the judiciary – did not,” she told this newspaper.

The saga came as a traumatic reminder of Hermitage’s time living in Tanzania, where local business interests and authorities colluded to force her out of the country.

In a frightening prelude to her ‘retirement’ in Spain, she and her late husband had to endure a campaign of harassment as a local businessman tried to steal their land.

Hermitage, a member of the English Law Society, has now sold up and moved on to the nearby Costa Tropical coast, hoping to avoid further harassment.

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Walter Finch

Walter - or Walt to most people - is a former and sometimes still photographer and filmmaker who likes to dig under the surface.
A NCTJ-trained journalist, he came to the Costa del Sol - Gibraltar hotspot from the Daily Mail in 2022 to report on organised crime, corruption, financial fraud and a little bit of whatever is going on.
Got a story? [email protected]
@waltfinc

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