Neighbours deny taking chainsaw to prized conifers

THE tree which moves some to tears of joy”, wrote William Blake, “is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”

For two warring sets of neighbours from the village of Carlton near Goole, in a case at York Crown Court involving 23 prized conifers allegedly hacked back with a chainsaw without permission, never have the poet’s words rung so true.

Married Derek and Joan Batty who moved into the village several years ago, and their 35-year-old son Michael, are on trial for destroying the trees belonging to Robert Penrose with a chainsaw while their neighbour was away on holiday.

At an earlier hearing the damage was estimated at £86,000.

Yesterday, Mr Penrose, whose house is named “The Conifers” after the trees, told the court he was away on a two-day break in Dublin with his girlfriend when he received a call while strolling around a museum from a friend who was watching his home, saying she had seen Michael Batty hacking at the trees.

He said he returned home to discover a scene of “devastation” with the conifers, some of which were planted as far back as the 1960s and had sprouted up to 50ft high, decimated and their branches strewn all over his garden.

“I saw what had happened and was in shock”, he said.

“The trees had simply been cut down.

“The remaining trees, which previously had branches stretching to the floor, had their branches cut and were strewn out across my grass.

“It was a really hard sight to see after living there for so many years. To me it was devastation.”

The court heard the row began back in 2009 when Mr Penrose received a letter from his next- door neighbours, the Battys, complaining some of the 23 trees – which stood up between the properties – were blocking light into their conservatory and they should be trimmed or they would go to the council to lodge an official complaint.

Mr Penrose, who has lived in the house since 1986, said he popped round for a chat with Derek Batty, 60, and wife Joan, 57, who he had previously enjoyed a good relationship with, and agreed to trim some of the taller trees that were causing a particular problem.

He said: “I walked round to see them. They invited me into their home and I asked them what the problem was.

“They said the trees were giving them a problem regarding light into their conservatory.

“We agreed that my gardener Reggie Atkinson should take the tops off five conifers that were giving them a problem.

“He did this in full view of Derek, his wife and others. Derek seemed pleased.

“I remember him saying he was surprised Reggie had taken off as much as he had.

“But Derek then asked me a number of times to take the tops off more trees.

“I said no at least three times because of privacy, and also because of birds nesting in the trees I did not want disturbed.

“This was well heard by several people who were present.”

Edward Bindloss, prosecuting the three alleged tree vandals, told York Crown Court: “The three defendants were involved together in cutting down several trees on their neighbour’s land when he was away.

“They knew he did not want or allow that to happen.

“Mr Penrose agreed to cut 10 to 15ft off four of five trees to allow more light access to the Battys’ back garden.

“His gardener did that, but the Battys then asked Mr Penrose to cut more trees down to a lower level. But the complainant said no as it would affect his privacy, and made his intentions clear.

“But on June 11, with the complainant away on holiday, Derek and Joan arranged with their son Michael to cut down more trees even though Mr Penrose had said no.

“A chainsaw was hired and Michael felled several trees down to about five feet.”

Mr Penrose returned home from Dublin on the date originally planned but when he saw the state of his treasured conifers he called police.

Michael Batty was arrested by officers and his parents were asked to attend the police station voluntarily.

The couple claimed that they had a verbal agreement with Mr Penrose to cut down the trees, and Michael Batty said he had been told to cut them down after his parents had agreed it with their neighbour.

The three Battys each deny destroying property, a charge arising from the Criminal Damage Act.