When architect Basia Lejonvarn offered to help her neighbours transform the garden of their £5 million home for free, she thought she was doing them a favour.
But the offer sparked an extraordinary five-year legal row in which Basia was sued for £300,000; there were three separate court hearings; and legal costs amounted to a staggering £1 million.
Last week, the High Court ruled that Mrs Lejonvarn was blameless in the dispute with Peter and Lynn Burgess, who claimed that – far from lending a helpful hand – she had negligently project-managed and designed their garden.
Basia Paczynski (pictured above) claims she was not responsible for any damage to friend Peter Burgess’s garden after landscaping it at his £5million north London home for free
Speaking for the first time since the judgment, Mrs Lejonvarn says she believes the ‘Kafkaesque’ case should act as a cautionary tale for anyone tempted to help a friend in need.
She told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It has been horrendous. We have endured five years of legal torture.
I have faced professional and personal ruin and my family has faced financial ruin. I did nothing wrong. All I did was offer a neighbour some advice.
‘And now I have been completely vindicated by the court.’
Indeed, her neighbours’ claim lacked ‘credibility and conviction’, according to Judge Martin Bowdery QC.
Mrs Lejonvarn, 54, who qualified as an architect in the States, and her husband Jason, a financier, lived in an apartment whose garden overlooked the Burgesses’ sixbedroom, semi-detached Victorian house in affluent Highgate, North London. They became friendly, occasionally socialising together.
The garden of Peter & Lynn Burgess before professional interior designer Basia landscaped it
Then, on August 5, 2012, the Lejonvarns attended the Burgesses’ home for a party to watch the London Olympics.
There, Peter, 61, and Lynn Burgess, 60, unveiled an imaginative design for a landscape garden, with terraces, paths, lawns and mood-lit flower beds.
The designer had quoted a price of £150,000, a sum the Burgesses thought was too steep. Mrs Lejonvarn agreed and suggested the work should cost them £130,000.
Fatefully, she offered to help with the project for free – believing it could lead to paid work later in the project – and a team of Polish contractors was hired to begin the job.
The garden after the landscaping at the £6 million home in Highgate
Soon, however, the Burgesses were complaining about escalating costs and their relationship with Basia deteriorated. Then in September 2013, the Lejonvarns were shocked to learn they were being sued to recover costs of more than £300,000 because, according to her neighbours, the garden work had gone catastrophically wrong.
Basia says: ‘He had got lawyers on board accusing me of being responsible for everything in the garden.’
In 2016, the case was heard in the High Court and, in a devastating verdict for Basia, it was ruled she could be held liable.
Facing ruin, Basia took the case to the Court of Appeal, where it was ruled the original judge had overstepped the mark and the case needed to be sent back to the High Court.
After last week’s judgment, Basia said: ‘I would not wish this on my worst enemy. For any professional thinking of offering advice to friends, I would say: “Think again.” ’
The Burgesses did not respond to a request for comment.