WIMBORNE Cemetery has scored a landmark victory in a two-year battle against a 150 per cent rise in its rates.

Thousands of chapels across the country could escape similarly steep costs after the cemetery won an appeal based on an historic act that the Church of England cannot own anything.

Rather than accept the Valuations Office hiking the picturesque cemetery chapel’s annual rateable value from £3,250 to £8,000, clerk and registrar Anthony Sherman took the matter to Parliament, enlisted barristers and even threatened a judicial review. Now the rise has been overturned, they’re looking to claim the money back.

Mr Sherman, 71, said: “The 1857 Act states that any church to be exempt has to be owned by the Church of England.

“But it cannot own anything because it does not exist in law. After we proved that, they were sunk.

“The argument must have cost them a fortune. I’m glad we took on the big boys.”

The two chapels date back to 1856. More than 12,880 people are buried at the 20 acre site, in Cemetery Road. About 9,000 chapels nationwide could now be exempt, Mr Sherman said.

“This will have a huge effect,” Mr Sherman said.

“Any funeral director could potentially claim they are chapels of rest and should be exempt.

“It’s all to do with public worship. When people go in to mourn the loss of a loved one, that’s what they do.”

The rate rise was first knocked down from £8,000 to £6,500, and then the ruling was overturned last month.