FLAC clients acquitted of all charges

Following a lengthy trial before the Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court, two FLAC clients (joint Defendants) were acquitted of all ten charges laid by Maldon District Council, which alleged multiple breaches of an Area type Tree Preservation Order made in 1991.

The Defendants bought the site with the benefit of consent under the TPO regime for the clearance of “thorns”, and the Council accepted that it had also agreed to the removal of dead fruit trees. The site was subsequently cleared of the majority of its woody vegetation, much of which comprising thorn scrub according to a pre-clearance ecology survey. After initially agreeing that the consented works had been implemented lawfully, the Council had a change of heart and commenced proceedings, on the basis that a) the consent had been greatly exceeded and b) a Condition Precedent attached to the consent had not been discharged. The Council bought in external expert witness services; the Defendants retained the services of FLAC Principal Julian Forbes-Laird (JFL).

JFL considered the allegations to be baseless, not least as it was unknown either whether the consent had in fact been exceeded, or whether any of the vegetation that had been cleared was of an age to be caught by the TPO, which Maldon had failed to review (contrary to central government advice on the use of Area TPO designations).

The Council’s expert conducted an exhaustive site investigation to collect root samples from felled trees, which were then sent to a laboratory in Germany for microscopic analysis and dendrochronological assessment. The laboratory concluded that none of the samples pre-dated the TPO, and so there remained no evidence that it had been contravened. Most unwisely, the Council elected to press on to trial, where the strength of its case ultimately resolved to the size of a woodpigeon shown in a grainy photograph sitting on a piece of felled timber. Of course, the Bench saw through this nonsense and dismissed all charges.

Finally, the Court agreed with Defence submissions that as the works had been lawful, the alleged breach of Condition could not stand on its own as a prosecutable matter.

Instructing solicitor was Hugh Rowland of Gotelees, and Counsel for the Defence was Sarah le Fevre of 3 Raymond Buildings