Chelmsford City Council

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Man ordered to pay £61,000 for damage to tree

The tree with bark removed and sap escaping

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, of Southborough Road, Chelmsford, Essex, 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 an impressive, mature cedar in a conservation area to the front of Mr Lawrence's Grade II-listed property. It was probably planted shortly after the house was built in 1908.

The court heard that Mr. Lawrence was in flagrant breach of the legislation, continuing to intentionally damage the tree following visits and written letters from the Council in January this year. At that point, he had stripped the tree partly of bark.

The defendant had previously made two applications to fell the tree, both of which had been refused by the Council. Neither of the two refusals had been appealed.

Returning in May, officers were shocked to find that despite sending a request to cease any further works, and despite Mr Lawrence acknowledging his unlawful actions, he had continued and had completely stripped the lower trunk of the tree.

It was now bleeding sap, holes had been drilled into the trunk and it was totally de-barked around the whole circumference. With such extensive damage, it now had to be felled.

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, based on his early guilty plea. 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.

Councillor 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."

Friday 20 December. 

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    Last updated: 02 September 2020

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