Tens of squatters residing on a 40-acre parcel land belonging to the Catholic Church in Voi will now be forced to pay the church Sh500,000 as general damages for trespass, a court has ruled.
The Environment and Land Court said the registered trustees of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa which owns the land is entitled to be compensated for the denial of use of its land for over a decade.
“I award the plaintiff (church) damages of Sh500,000 on account of nominal general damages for trespass together with interest at court rates from the date of this judgment until payment in full,” ruled Justice Charles Yano.
Justice Yano further ordered the squatters to vacate and deliver vacant possession of the land to the church within 30 days from the date of service of the decree.
“In default of compliance, the plaintiff shall be entitled to an order of eviction for the forcible removal of the defendants, their agents or servants from land upon application,” Justice Yano further ordered.
The judge also issued a permanent injunction restraining the squatters from remaining or continuing being in occupation of the land.
In its decision, the court noted that through a series of meetings involving the parties and government officials, the church was willing and ready to resettle the defendants on a 7-acre portion of the land.
However, the defendants refused the allocated land alleging fraud and that it was swampy but did not adduce evidence to prove the allegation or any report to ascertain that it was unsuitable for occupation.
“In my view, the church was indeed generous and practiced the true spirit of Christianity by trying to resettle the defendants some of whom may have been the church’s congregants rather than evicting them,” said Justice Yano.
He said that the registered trustees of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa adduced evidence to prove ownership of the land and it was entitled to vacant and quite possession from the defendants.
The court further said that the defendants failed to prove that they were in actual, open, continuous uninterrupted, exclusive occupation of the land without any form of permission from the church for 12 years in order to claim the land through adverse possession.
“This court finds the defendants are intruders into the land with no colour of title whatsoever and should be evicted,” said Justice Yano.
He also said that the defendants did not produce evidence to prove fraud and illegality on how the church acquired title to the land.
The registered trustees of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa sued the squatters saying they had wrongfully taken possession of the land, trespassed and built structures on it.
According to the church, the defendants had cut down trees, utilized water resources and grazed on the land without its consent leading to environmental degradation.
The church also stated that the presence of the defendants on the land had denied its staff, nuns and priests from peaceful enjoyment of the property and prevented its development plans due to the constant threats from the defendants.
According to the church, it was given land by Voi Development Co. Ltd and that it holds title to it (land) for 969 years.
The church told the court that at the time of donation, the land was vacant with no encumbrances and that it had developmental plans.
The court heard that the plaintiff did not know how Voi Development Co. Ltd got the land and that when it was processing the title it had no encumbrance.
On their part, the defendants told the court that they had acquired rights to the land through adverse possession as they have enjoyed its continuous and uninterrupted occupation for over 12 years hence the suit by the church was time barred.
In their counterclaim, the defendants stated that they had constructed permanent structures, a school and have been paying land rates to Voi Municipal Council.
They alleged that the church fraudulently and unlawfully carved out the title of the land from ‘the mother title’ despite knowing they had acquired rights over it.
The defendants claimed that the church moved to the land under the pretext of implementing a water project for them.
They wanted to be declared legal owners of approximately ten acres of the land to the exclusion of the church or any other party.