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Magistrates order homeowner to pay £61,000 over damage to protected tree

A homeowner who damaged a 90-year-old tree so much that it had to be felled has been fined more than £60,000 following a criminal prosecution by Chelmsford City Council.

Stephen Lawrence, of Southborough Road, Chelmsford, Essex, had pleaded guilty to wilful damage to a protected tree.

The tree in question was an impressive, mature cedar in a conservation area to the front of Mr Lawrence's Grade II-listed property, the council said. It was probably planted shortly after the house was built in 1908.

Basildon Magistrates Court heard that Mr. Lawrence had continued 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 Chelmsford. Neither of the two refusals had been appealed.

When they returned in May,  officers found 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,” the council said, adding that with such extensive damage, it had to be felled.

Mr Lawrence 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.

Chelmsford said the fine was 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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