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Madonna takes on UK hikers


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Madonna and Ritchie say their land has been wrongly labeled.
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LONDON, England -- Lawyers for Madonna and her film director husband Guy Ritchie have begun contesting whether walkers have the right to roam through the couple's £9 million ($16.1 million) estate in southern England.

The couple -- listed as Mr. and Mrs. G. Ritchie in legal papers relating to the case -- are disputing their obligations under a new law designed to give walkers, known in the UK as ramblers, access to open land across Britain.

The Countryside Agency had decided that 100 acres (40 hectares) of the couple's 1,200-acre Ashcombe House retreat near Wiltshire should be designated as open countryside and a public walkway.

But the singer and her husband, who did not attend the opening of an inquiry on Wednesday, believe the decision would breach their human rights by creating an infringement of their privacy.

The hearing, at a hotel in Shaftesbury, Dorset, is being headed by the Planning Inspectorate and is expected to take up to five days.

The appeal by the couple is only the third by landowners to be heard against the provisional map of all land in England undertaken by the agency, their lawyer said.

David Elvin QC told the inquiry on Wednesday that 12 pieces of land belonging to the Ritchies was still subject to dispute, the UK Press Association reported.

Elvin said his clients believe the land had been wrongly labeled by the agency.

Parties involved in the dispute, including representatives of the agency and the Ramblers' Assocation, were set to take a tour around the couple's estate later Wednesday.

The couple bought the estate in 2001. It features a Georgian mansion that was the former home of society photographer Cecil Beaton.


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