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Tree-felling case axed

PUBLISHED: 20:02 14 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:00 22 October 2010

A case surrounding claims that protected trees were illegally felled was thrown out of court today after the landowner demanded that the prosecution prove he is the owner of the property.

A case surrounding claims that protected trees were illegally felled was thrown out of court today after the landowner demanded that the prosecution prove he is the owner of the property.

Magistrates at Cromer had to dismiss the case as there was no evidence that on May 26 last year, when officers from the council discovered damaged trees at Harbord House, Robert Harbord-Hamond was the owner of the land.

Prosecutors also had no proof that Dan Kavanagh - the site manager with whom North Norfolk District Council officers had been dealing with - was Harbord-Hamond's agent.

Harbord-Hamond, of Harbord House, Cromer, was accused of digging trenches too close to four trees that were protected - damaging their roots - which will probably cause them to die within the next two years.

But magistrates agreed with Dave Foulkes, defending, that there was no case to answer.

Mr Foulkes said: “The fundamental point is that there has to be some evidence that Mr Harbord-Hamond has a connection with the land, and some ownership. There was no evidence that he was owner or responsible for the land on May 26 2005.”

Magistrates heard that a landowner is responsible for any damage caused by contractors to trees - even if they were not aware of it- and were presented with detailed evidence from tree experts that the trees were severely mutilated.

But Mr Foulkes said council officers had assumed that Dan Kavanagh represented Harbord-Hamond, but again, there was no evidence.

Speaking after the trial, Mr Foulkes said the prosecution needed to provide land deeds, or have an admission from Harbord-Hamond that he was the owner.

Martin Pettifer, prosecuting for the council, said: “It is obviously clear that Mr Harbord-Hamond is the owner of the land.”

He said the council had dealt with Harbord-Hamond over planning applications for the land, and had issued him with the tree preservation orders in 2002. And Nicholas Coleman, a tree expert for the council, had been introduced to him in 2006 as the owner.

But prosecutors had no proof that when the tree experts visited the land was owned by Harbord-Hamond.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Pettifer said: “There was evidence produced of ownership, both before and after the date in question.”

And he added: “We consider it extremely important that we brought the prosecution. We hope that by bringing it, we have highlighted the need to comply with tree preservation orders.”

Harbord-Hamond, the youngest son of Lord Suffield, is currently involved in another land dispute - laying claim to 35 acres of common land in Hanworth, near Cromer, saying that it rightfully belongs to him, and that he has proof of ownership. Villagers are due to fight his claim at Norwich County Court in the autumn.


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