THE BATTLE for ownership of a £1m Oxford house took a further twist yesterday as the judge questioned the appearance of an email address on an electricity bill purporting to be from 1983.

Abbey Folami says he bought the six-bedroom North Oxford property for £108,000 and land in Africa from a relative of a dead Nigerian chief, the original owner.

But long-term tenants Kieron Halstead and Philip Brown – who it emerged yesterday has not paid rent since 1996 – claim a legal right to the home in Warnborough Road because they say there is no living person who legally owns the property.

Mr Folami is seeking a court order evicting the pair and, as part of his case that he is the rightful owner, submitted documents including a Nigerian utility bill from 1983.

But Recorder Alastair Wilson alerted lawyers to the bill carrying an email address. He said it appeared to date from a time before the widespread use of emails, but asked for it to be looked into.

So far Recorder Wilson has been told the house was originally bought by Chief Obasola Atobatele in 1977 for £15,500. He died in 1989.

Mr Folami says he bought the house from Joshua Atobatele, the son of a relative of the chief who had purchased the property for cash and £350,000 of land in the west African country.

Mr Brown gave evidence at Oxford County Court yesterday, saying he moved into the property in 1987 and paid rent to a man, whom he initially thought was the owner and manager of the house, but later learnt was an agent.

In 1990, he found out the chief had died a year earlier. In 1996, the house received a letter from someone acting on behalf of Lucinda Atobatele, the chief’s daughter.

It stated: “We know of no authority for the payment of rent to any person.”

However, it later added: “This does not mean that any rent you are paying is being paid improperly.”

Mr Brown said from that day he decided not to pay any more rent and the letting agent, to whom he had been handing over monthly payments, died later that year.

He said: “The impact of that letter was that (the letting agent) had been taking rent between 1989 and 1996. Suddenly both these people (the letting agent and his wife who had been collecting payment as his health failed) are not in a position to do anything, but here I am in this house.

“So it was my decision to move forward acting as an owner or landlord.”

Mr Brown and Mr Halstead both contest the eviction notice and say Mr Folami does not rightfully own the property.

They have their own proceedings pending under which they hope to gain ownership of the house.

Mr Brown’s barrister John Clargo said his client objected to being evicted on the grounds of ‘adverse possession’ because there had been no owner for more than 12 years while he lived there.

Mr Folami’s barrister Richard Devereux-Cooke said adverse possession can only be valid where a claimant has completed the 12-year period but also had the intention to dispossess someone of their property for the duration of that period.

He accused Mr Brown of not initially having that intention and inventing it at a later date. Mr Brown denied this.

The hearing continues.