Our story begins in the middle of a June night, when Poole resident Steve Bransgrove was woken up by the sound of an engine followed by a loud bang that shook the house.
He looked out to see a 40ft pine tree at the end of his garden lying on the ground, clearly sawn through in violation of a preservation order as well as the owner's rights.
The Council's planning enforcement officer visited the site the next day. Like any good detective, he looked around for clues and soon discovered a trail of flattened grass leading up the hill and into another garden:
"I saw recently purchased sun loungers and a new hot tub and I realised the occupants now had uninterrupted views of the Purbeck Hills and harbour."Pretty conclusive, you might think, but no; the owner of the hot tub, Neil Davey, flatly denied any connection between its recent installation and the suspiciously convenient felling of the 52-year-old tree, pointing out that he had been away on honeymoon on the night it was cut down.
Enter, at this point, one Thomas McGuire, tree surgeon, who just happened to be working at Mr Davey's property at the time. McGuire denied cutting down the tree on Davey's instructions, while Davey continued to insist the matter had nothing at all to do with his newly-purchased patio furniture and hot tub.
This, then, is what led up to a fascinating court case this week which saw Davey and McGuire's defence unravel like an old sock.
First the prosecution debunked Davey's claim to police that he and the tree surgeon were 'passing acquaintances' of a few months standing, making it clear that the men had been friends for ten years.
Then an examination of phone records showed that Davey had made a call to McGuire just before being interviewed by the police, and finally came the coup de grâce: on the night in question...
...McGuire's phone signal had been registered by a mast in Parkstone, close to where the tree had been felled, despite him claiming he had been in Yeovil at the time.Not surprisingly, McGuire chose not to appear on the witness stand at all, while Davey was obliged to eat humble pie in a most gratifying manner, admitting that he 'panicked' and lied to the police about his connection with McGuire:
"I've been an absolute fool," he told the court.Well, I don't think anyone would argue with that.
However, it's not as if he's the only one with nefarious designs on the local vegetation. Back in 2010, the BBC and the Telegraph reported that, according to Poole Council, there had been up to 15 attacks in the area on trees subject to preservation orders:
It said offenders are prepared to risk a fine of up to £20,000 to profit from a sea view or extra development space.Presumably Davey took this into account and considered it a price worth paying for the privilege of wallowing in his hot tub with his new bride while looking out over the harbour.
Honesty, it would seem, is a commodity in short supply these days, at least when a sea view is at stake.
Update: £20,000 is the maximum fine a magistrate's court can impose, but, fortunately for connoisseurs of Schadenfreude, the nature of this case meant that it ended up in the Crown court instead. Following a guilty verdict, Davey was instructed to pay a record fine of £75,000 for the offence.
And it gets better; under 'proceeds of crime' legislation, he was fined an additional £50,000, corresponding with the estimated increase in the current value of his house (which will, of course, last only until the replacement tree fills the gap). And no one has yet mentioned legal costs. [News just in; another £14,500 on Davey's slate]
Meanwhile, and most entertaining of all, a passing remark in the BBC video report suggests that McGuire felled the tree as a 'wedding present' for Davey's wife at his request - I think it's fair to say that's one gift that won't be forgotten in a hurry.