Helen Nugent, Michael Theodoulou, Timesonline

Thousands of Britons with holiday and retirement homes in northern Cyprus face eviction after the Court of Appeal upheld a decision that a British couple must surrender disputed land.

David and Linda Orams spent their life savings on a dream villa and pool. They have spent six years fighting the legal battle but must now give back the property to the original owner, Meletios Apostolides, a displaced Greek Cypriot.

About 5,000 Britons live on land in northern Cyprus once owned by displaced Greek Cypriots who fled to the south when Turkey invaded in 1974. The Court of Appeal ruling could open the floodgates to thousands of similar compensation claims.

Some 167,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to leave their homes between 1974-5. Many believe that thousands of Britons who bought land were aware that it belonged to Greek Cypriots but turned a blind eye to secure a cheap deal.

Britons living in northern Cyprus insist that they bought property in good faith. They say they were assured by local estate agents that it was safe to buy on exchanged land because the Greek Cypriots had been recompensed with land in the south.

Speaking after the ruling today, Mrs Orams, from Hove, Sussex told The Times: "It's very disappointing. Obviously, it's a blow to us but we're not going to let it ruin our lives … We're strong, we've dealt with this for over five years now. We'll just carry on and hope for the best."

She continued: "We're going to study the judgment and we'll consider whether there's anything further to be done. Failing that, we'll have to take steps as far as possible, given the political situation in Cyprus, to comply with the judgment."

The legal action dates back to 2004 when Mr Apostolides, who was 24 in 1974 when his family had to leave their home, went to the Nicosia District Court in the Republic of Cyprus. At the time, the court ordered the immediate demolition of the Orams' villa, pool and fencing. They were also told to give back the property to the original owner and pay him damages.

But the court was unable to enforce its ruling in the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north, so Mr Apostolides tried to get the High Court in London to apply it.

The Oramses, represented by Cherie Blair, QC, said that they had Turkish title deeds proving they owned the land and property. In 2006 the High Court ruled that the Greek Cypriot ruling could not be implemented because European Union legislation is suspended in northern Cyprus.

So the case moved to the Court of Appeal which sought legal advice from the European Court of Justice (ECJ). By November last year, the three appeal judges were asked to consider whether the president of ECJ, Judge Vassilios Skouris, was biased when the Luxembourg court had ruled the British courts must enforce the decision of a southern Cyprus court. The appeal judges rejected that argument by the Orams' legal team.

Mr Apostolides said: "I'm thrilled. This case has gone on for nearly six years, it was about time for it to come to and end. It was a very good decision, it is a victory for European laws and regulations. I believe it's a very important decision for all Cypriots and a decision that protects the individual rights of people against any unlawful authority."

Asked if Mr Apostolides will claim against the Orams' assets in Britain, including their home in Hove, Constantis Candounas, Mr Apostolides's solicitor, said: "We have to wait to see what the Orams' reaction will be, how they want to go about it, whether they'll call Apostolides to hand the property [in northern Cyprus over], whether they will pay the damages, whether we will have to take legal action to enforce the judgment. It remains to be seen."