EVERY day for more than 30 years 73-year-old Mrs Betty Mortimer has used a path joining St Albans Road and Crown Rise, in Garston.

On Tuesday, January 15, was no exception and she went to church in the morning. After mass, she came out to find the path had been blocked by a wire mesh fence.

It had been installed for "security reasons" by restaurant TGI Friday. No warning was given.

Mrs Mortimer said: "It was a shock when we were not able to use it."

She was not alone. Mrs Magaret Flood, 82, has been walking the short cut between Our Lady and St Michael's Church for 40 years.

Other people also suffered when the route was shut off. Mrs Vilma Best has trouble walking after an operation, and uses a stick.

With the path closed, another 30 minutes is added to her round trip.

By Friday, January 18, the fence had been rolled back after a flood of complaints.

Father Christopher Hamilton-Gray said there were traffic safety issues for the elderly and young mothers walking with their children.

Without the path, they have to walk through a busy McDonalds or along a vandalised alley. He said: "That is not an acceptable option."

But although the traditional cut through is open, Mrs Flood and other church goers - including members of the playgroup - are worried it will be shut again.

Mr Neil Riding, managing director of TGI Friday's, said he was "pretty confident" this would not happen.

He apologised for the closure and said: "I can understand why people feel they have not been treated with due politeness."

Mr Riding said people had been using the path even though it was not a public footpath and crossed private land.

He said: "The decision we took to put the fence up is part of a number of measures to make the car park secure."

After a number of criminal incidents, he said, customers' property had to be looked after.

Mr Riding said he was trying to work towards a resolution with Watford Council and parishioners.

Two options have been suggested. One is to put a public right of way through the car park, with proper lighting and markings.

This would have to be paid for by the cash-strapped council.

Alternatively, a gate could be installed and locked at night.

Mr Riding said he favoured the first option.

Councillor Sheila Jones, who is backing the church petition, said access should be guaranteed even if it is not an official path.

She said: "We are trying to put moral pressure, whether they are right or wrong.

"You can't stop people going to church."