A sand-filled beach which has been fenced off by its French owners for the past five years has been “liberated” by sun-seeking locals.

Scores of residents descended on Newhaven Beach over the weekend to enjoy a swim, build sandcastles and walk dogs.

The sandy stretch, which has been enjoyed by locals for hundreds of years, was cordoned off by port authorities in 2008.

Despite still being off limits, fed-up residents have taken matters into their own hands by reportedly breaking down a gate to make the most of the summer weather.

Photographer Alexis Maryon, who photographed children enjoying the beach for the first time, said it is a “joyous example of people power”.

He added: “This is the only sandy beach between Camber one way and West Wittering the other. But for many years it has been off limits.

“People have had enough. They have taken matters into their own hands and can finally enjoy the sand.”

The beach, which is inside the arm of the harbour was taken over by Newhaven Port and Properties (NPP) in 2001.

The group, which has a series of French directors including representatives from neighbouring Dieppe’s local authority, has sought to secure the ferry route between the towns.

Legal action

In 2006 they closed it off citing safety reasons before re-opening following a public outcry.

But the fences went back up when the beach was closed permanently in 2008.

Campaigners launched legal action to make the space a registered village green to ensure public access.

Earlier this year, they received a huge boost when the Court of Appeal accepted their proposal – but before basking on the beach they have to wait for a decision on the NPP appeal.

Jackie Cole, deputy clerk at Newhaven Town Council, said the weekend’s developments were “residents taking actions into their own hands”.

Residents also took to Twitter and Facebook over the weekend to post pictures of the beach.

Ginette Stride posted: “Newhaven took back its beach again. Give it up NPP.”

Councillor Bill Randall, of Brighton and Hove City Council, posted a picture adding: “Locals celebrate their unofficial (and justified) liberation of West Beach Newhaven with a swim in the summer sea.”

Mr Maryon added: “We have liberated the beach and I just hope we can keep it.”

A statement issued by Newhaven Port & Properties said: “Please note that despite local rumours and antics to the contrary, the sandy beach remains closed to the public.

“Whilst there is still a legal case ongoing with appeals to the Supreme Court, the beach will remain closed.

“This is because there are still serious health & safety issues and the access is very dangerous.

“The fence and signage clearly indicate that there is no access and therefore the public should not put themselves at risk of injury.”

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