A retired doctor has been acquitted after his neighbour took out a private prosecution following accusations he “chopped down” his tree in a bid to get more light into his garden.
Niall Martin, 72, cut the 40ft tall Holly – that his neighbour claims is worth £56,000 – to allow more sunlight onto his flower beds in a Solihull conservation area in the West Midlands.
Mr Martin’s neighbour David Sandom said he was “angry” when he noticed that workmen had taken the tree down without his permission as he said the Holly was on his side of the garden and he did not want to remove it.
Mr Sandom also argued he had been caused a potential loss of £56,084, Birmingham Live reports.
The case ended up at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court after Mr Sandom took out a private prosecution.
The court heard from an arboriculturalist who said the tree had not been destroyed and the wood that was removed had “no commercial value.”
Mr Martin denied the charges against him and was fully acquitted after an all-day trial when magistrates could not determine who owned the Holly.
The court heard the neighbours, who had previously enjoyed a “civil” relationship for more than 20 years, had a conversation over their garden fence about trees.
Mr Sandom confirmed he gave his blessing for a Beech tree to be cut down as it was leaning into his neighbour’s garden, but not the Holly.
He said: “I refused permission point blank. It leans this way it doesn’t lean over his garden at all. I said I’m not going to give permission to cut down a mature tree.
“He said he didn’t need permission to cut it down and seemed to infer it was some sort of pest. It didn’t make any sort of sense to me. I didn’t buy that I know you have to have permission no matter what tree it is.”
Then six months later in February 2021, he noticed tree surgeons in the garden. Mr Sandom said: “If I had new neighbours I would have been watching the trees like a hawk, but it was Niall. We always got on.
“It was very civil. He came to my father’s funeral. I never dreamed he would do that.
“I looked down and the Holly tree had gone. I was stunned. Actually stunned. I saw the tree surgeons there. I was angry. They said Niall instructed us to do it.
“I couldn’t describe how angry I was. They asked if I wanted to talk to Niall. I said, ‘What’s the point, it’s gone’. I went back in the house. The time for conversation was before not after.”
Asked why he felt the tree was in his garden he added: “It was obvious to anyone who has got two eyes that was my property. Very obvious.”
Mr Martin, who welcomes people into his garden for charity every year as part of the road’s ‘In Bloom’ event, had a different view and told the court: “My understanding was that the tree was on my side, on my property, because it appeared so to the naked eye. It appeared so when I looked down the boundary.
“I made a fairly undoubted decision it was on my side. I didn’t have too much doubt about it at all.”
He stated he had spoken with Mr Sandom out of “courtesy” and was “very surprised” that his neighbour believed the Holly was in his own garden.
Mr Martin said he asked him what evidence he had but Mr Sandom did not reply, so he ended the conversation to avoid it becoming “acrimonious”.
The retired GP applied for permission from Solihull Council to remove other trees in his garden but admitted he was “mistaken” not to include the Holly because he thought it was just part of the hedge and he did not require approval.
He said: “I originally wanted to reduce the height of the tree to permit more light into the garden. David said what was said.
“I believed it was on my side of the boundary. I took the opportunity of using the tree surgeons to reduce the height of the tree whilst they were there. It was an afterthought really.”
Mr Martin claimed he knocked on Mr Sandom’s door to speak to him later that day but “he saw it was me and didn’t answer”.
He added: “When legal proceedings started I sent several letters to him in an effort to resolve the situation.
“Then to my shock and amazement, I got a summons to come to court over it. I said hello to David as I passed him but he didn’t reply. We had made distinct efforts to resolve this without it coming to court.
“It’s important to emphasise I had no criminal intent in my behaviour. It was the last thing I was thinking of.”
A chartered surveyor for Mr Sandom argued the tree was more on his side of the garden but accepted it was not ‘wholly’ on it. The counterpart for the defence concluded the Holly was ‘on the boundary’.
Ben Bennett, an arboriculturalist, told the court that while the tree had been reduced it was “responding well and showing good vigour” adding it certainly had not been destroyed. He also concluded that the wood taken away had “‘no commercial value whatsoever”.
Confirming the not guilty verdicts against Mr Martin, the Chair of the Bench said: “The point of ownership of the tree is disputed. We didn’t believe the prosecution have shown beyond reasonable doubt the ownership of that tree therefore you can’t be found guilty of either of these offences.”
Catherine Ravenscroft, defending, confirmed they would be making an application for costs.