William Eichler 24 December 2019

Homeowner fined over £60,00 for ‘wilful damage’ to a protected tree

A homeowner who damaged a 90-year-old tree so much that it had to be felled has been fined over £60,000 by magistrates.

Stephen Lawrence pleaded guilty to wilful damage to a protected tree in a criminal prosecution by Chelmsford City Council at Basildon Magistrates Court on 12 December.

The tree in question was a mature cedar in a conservation area to the front of Mr Lawrence's Grade II-listed property.

The court heard that Mr. Lawrence was in breach of the legislation, continuing to intentionally damage the tree following visits and written letters from the council in January this year.

The defendant had previously made two applications to fell the tree, both of which had been refused by the council.

The defendant was initially fined £90,000, but this was reduced to £60,000 plus costs of £1,004.82 and a victim surcharge of £32.

The fine is partly based on an assessment of the tree's value, both monetary and in terms of value to the community and environment, of £48,000.

Cllr Mike Mackrory, cabinet member for sustainable communities, said: ‘This is a significant fine which reflects the age and the value of the tree: to people in the local neighbourhood who enjoyed seeing it every day, to the flora and fauna who lived in it, and to the wider environment as trees like this are hugely important in absorbing carbon.

‘The sad thing is that at the point when the damage was first discovered, although the damage was extensive, the tree could still have survived.

‘It was the further attacks on it, after Mr Lawrence had been ordered to cease damaging it in the spring, which completely finished it off and meant that there was now no chance that this beautiful old tree could live.’

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