A couple have been left with a £110,000 legal bill after losing a court wrangle over a small patch of scrubland worth £1,000.

The disputed spinney lies between two £2 million properties in Cowden, near East Grinstead.

Both Neville Darby, who lives in the grand Furnace Mill, and David Bell, of nearby Furnace House, claimed ownership of the bramble patch.

Mr Darby holds the title deeds to the land, which adjoins Mr Bell's 50-acre estate. Mr Darby claimed it had been part of his home since the 17th Century.

Mr Bell said the patch had been tended by residents of Furnace House since the early Seventies and argued it was his by squatters' rights. He claimed he also owned a cave under the land which opens on to Mr Darby's land.

At Tunbridge Wells County Court yesterday, Judge Keith Hollis agreed with Mr Bell, a former Eastbourne College student and Hove resident.

He ordered Mr Darby and his wife Kate to pay their neighbour's legal costs, estimated at £60,000, plus their own of £50,000.

They also have to pay £666.31 to replace a fence which Mr Bell had put up to mark the boundary but which Mr Darby, 67, pulled down.

The court heard previous owners of the neighbouring properties had always maintained good relations.

Mr Bell said it was understood that the land was part of his estate when he moved into Furnace House in 1991.

But Mr Darby said the land was on his deeds, and allotted by the Land Registry, when he moved next door in 1995.

The pair never discussed the matter, nor indeed spoke at all, until Mr Darby removed the boundary fence in order to turn the land into a rock garden.

The judge said: "This was a small and unimportant sliver of land on the boundary, out of sight and some way removed from his Mr Darby's home on an estate of 30 acres.

"I have no doubt had either of the Darbys gone to the end of the land and looked through the thicket, they would have seen an extended area of grass extending to the Furnace House lawn.

"The errors of judgement have been on the Darbys' side. They have been aware of Mr Bell's claim from the start.

"The land is an addition to the land they thought they were purchasing when their offer was accepted.

"They took no steps to clarify it with the Bells or their vendors before they exchanged contracts. Neither did they raise the matter with their new neighbours when they moved in.

"Mr Darby's subsequent anger when it did come to light was quite unreasonable and quite unjustified."

Outside the court, Mr Bell said he was "relieved" but did not wish to comment further.

Mr Darby said: "There are a lot of unanswered questions. This has cost us more than a Lotus Elise but there are no regrets."

He insisted he would not allow Mr Bell access to the cave but said he had no plans to appeal.