Eva Ross gave me an Amnesty International diary for my 1996 Christmas present and I tried hard to keep it up to date to show my appreciation. Writing up daily accounts of our coach holiday in Salzburg was easy a nice thing to do, whilst waiting about in the coach; very vivid experiences for us; nice to read up, ten years after, but boring as any holiday photographs for you or anyone else that is because they are mundane events, experienced by thousands of our fellow citizens. Many of the other days when there was a convenient time to make a record are also not significant Samuel Pepys wrote a vivid description of his stools when he had nothing better to write about.
My diary entries record the time we got up; five and six oclock, (and that we still do); we had colds; Maureen had crippling arthritic flare-ups; I had mouth ulcers and my shoulders were so agonising the pain had to be controlled; nevertheless, we worked hard in the garden because we entered the BVT competition again and won another second prize. The Baggies were playing dreadfully, week after week and we had to appoint a new manager.
These notes would convey the wrong overall impression of our lives because the acts in themselves did not move the world. Tony Benn tape-recorded his daily diary he covered more detail this way and it follows that you have a better chance of recording something apparently small but found later to make a real difference; otherwise all the rest would have been forgotten. Churchill, when dictating his memoirs, had a room full of experts who from time to time expostulated,
This is contrary to the facts we have here sir.
But you will write down what I say. Thus the wise old historian, politician, statesman, writer, artist, trade unionist warrior, recorded history and History is a matter of selection, editing, mixing with myth for whatever purpose it is recorded to serve.
We always keep our calendar/diary on the kitchen wall; routine domestic appointments are noted the entries are useful to me now in writing this book; strangely our 1997 calendar is an exception because it has few if any notes that are useful for my purpose. I kept my solicitors letters in a file and it was my habit to write up conversations and events on my BBC computer and save them on the 5 ¼ floppies. Sadly, in this particular year the power unit failed; the machine was so outdated even then, because you couldnt buy spares off the shelf; I had to resort to longhand for my mail until Ian acquired another broken computer to cannibalise and restore the relevant working part. But luckily Evas 1997 diary Christmas present plus my efforts, however incomplete are very useful I curse the gaps in my notes now and cannot understand some of my abbreviations but there is enough to stimulate my memory and as I write the grey cells begin to function. My reader can be assured that what I relate is true.
The New Years Day entry; Nasty Baggie experience fans called in, to clear pitch of snow. Next day, our outside pipe burst; the water is turned off - cant use washing machine until Ian mends it.
On Saturday 5th, Ian, the boys, Jim, (lives next door but one and now seventy-two), Steve Jones, (no relation) our friend, and I take a train to London for the 3rd Round of the FA cup. We took the Underground to Chelsea necessitating a change of line; it was dirty, decrepit, neglected and obviously starved of investment; I expected something better at the ground itself. True, the environs of the Albion ground were even worse but consider the enormous corporate wealth of the capital. This was the Tory era of private wealth and public squalor ten years of Labour later and the gap between individual rich and poor is more extreme although inner city renewal is impressive
Ian and I were used to the taxi from Euston to Lincolns Inn, the High Court; these journeys reflected the Capital Citys prosperity. This Saturday I had booked the rail and match tickets and all costs were on me, which was financially embarrassing. Ray Burford, my solicitor cancelled his interest in joining our party at the last moment; instead he sent me another demand for money;
Youll get it all back when the old man pays up and from what I hear, the Stanton family has disintegrated; the younger brothers are demanding that PTS (big brother) settles and forbid him further court action against you. Ray (my solicitor) had got this from old Abe, the Stanton solicitor, in one of those private conversations that made me sick: I was employing Ray only to recover my costs; nothing else; but this news was dynamite. We finished court fourteen months ago and Rays firm was waiting for the costs it was an arrangement that I should make regular payments but also pay up front the barristers and taxing solicitors fees by lump sum. Ray was owed £30,000K. The sooner Stanton finished his six year foray into the courts the better for him he was eighty-nine and when we saw him with his new wife he looked so frail.
The Chelsea visit was cold and wet and the Baggies were soundly thrashed and put out of the FA Cup. Jim and I discussed our future on our long journey home and agreed it would be our last away fixture.
Next day Carlton TV rang; the bosses had decided to broadcast a major TV event on prime time, 9 pm ITV; they were officially supporting me in my campaign to change the law. Of course, I had learnt that big business, like states have no moral or ethical dimension; they had no actual compassion for me, my family or my fellow victims but, televising a hedge victims misery and his hedgerage neighbour boosts ratings and advertising revenue. I was determined to make ruthless use of the focal points where our interest coincided maximum numbers of TV audience i.e. viewers who vote in General Elections the ballot box effect, reflected in the corridors of power. It was the beginning of hard grinding, long years of work. But this call was a morale boost of gigantic proportions. I had phone calls any time of day, every day; they were all supportive and problem sharing the commonality was that of a helpless victim pitched against a ruthless, arrogant and vile neighbour. I had used the term neighbour from hell from the county court steps thirteen months ago - it had a dramatic effect on all the media; a growing number of hedge victims were boiling with resistance and indignation - Carlton would give them expression.
At this point Clare Hinchliffe came into my life; she lived locally, was highly intelligent, had just retired as an English teacher and was on a computer course at Birmingham University; she was writhing with anger at her neighbour she was as frustrated as all of us that there was nothing a victim could do about it but here was someone eminently worthwhile - Clare was committed and obsession prone, like me and willing to work like hell.
Then there was Pam Schofield from Cambridge; I advised her, as I did every caller victim, after the first couple of questions,
Just move house, then forget the indignity live in peace.
Why didnt you do that and you can now? There were snags about that but I answered,
Because of my personality I could not live with myself afterwards I could not live in peace dont be like me.
But I am like that.
Joyce Cheswick and her Polish husband, who died under the stress, lived only a couple of miles away. Part of their living room collapsed from root intrusion undermining the foundations. Their neighbours insurance covered it but the builders were slow doing the repair in winter. The trees and roots were removed but upon completion another row of saplings were planted because the policy said - all must be restored to its original state.
Now, Rod Williams ran Siguy Films, was commissioned by Carlton to produce the programme; he had to justify a big outlay it was my job to make sure he succeeded. Yes, I could ad lib at length to him about cases I knew purely from telephone calls but, it was just hearsay; he wanted my thick bundle of correspondence it would be returned after extracting details and names and addresses (ha, ha) it cost £8.55 registered post.
It was cold every day bloody cold the local derby with Wolves was on TV Albion was pathetic and lost two nil.
I settled down to do my media release, finished it next day, got it photo copied, packed and addressed at least to the most important ones, using the free sticky labels supplied by Max and using my copious quantities of used envelopes.
Carlton (Rod) then rang for a long talk, leaving the exact but just enough time for my regular, collection time, fifteen minute walk to the post box it was important that my message arrived early next day. The remainder of the releases were packed and posted on the following day.
The essential, two part, information pack was about the scheduled, final (ha, ha) day in the taxation court (or any court) on Thursday would arrive two days before at the national media News Desks.
Item One on its own on my news information sheet would not excite any news editor who had not been regularly reporting the hedge litigation saga but at last we would expect to know the final total costs, after taxation, of Stanton v Jones or bluntly what my old neighbour had to pay me. The final conjecture , a staggering figure had been highly newsworthy over the last six years but if local papers and TV could not get a figure they made guesses; no problem in itself- £50,000, £60,000 these drew intakes of breath. They were conservative figures.
We were lucky to get this hearing, frustratingly adjourned last November, as early as this the 16th January. On the actual day, we arrived at the building early but were called into court, hours later - very late - ten past twelve. The judge managed to get through the remainder of my costs, even with each item being challenged, and of course with the obligatory lunch break. Unfortunately, by the time the list was completed, we had by then accrued more taxation expenses to go on the final tab; the court was again adjourned until March. This was a fearful, frustrating blow. The half dozen reporters had by now gone home after the long morning delay. My time was not at all wasted as I was able to educate new young reporters on the full contents of my media release during the morning wait and for those who had still not heard it the whole Stanton v Jones Saga.
Item 2 on my media release was potentially far more spicy what I euphemistically called the second annual maintenance (rather than the rather blunt, post judgement, second cutting) of the trees would take in a months time the 16th Feb 1997. Either word would enrage the Stantons who despite the judgement and expensive legal team did not accept me having any part, at any time in any cutting whatsoever.
By now you have forgotten, the first cutting was the 1st April 1996, last year at a time far too late in the season, because Stanton jnr was procrastinating. A year ago, I warned him we were too near to the nesting season in fact our contractor whilst doing the work actually found a collared pigeons nest with two eggs these birds nest early, the pigeon population is excessive and a nuisance; but other birds are investigating their future nesting places; it was necessary to bring the potential disturbance forward six weeks this year (with the intention of yet another four weeks earlier still, next year).
What is important from now on is the regular annual maintenance of the hedge.
Last year I gave written notice I would cut the trees to twelve feet. The Stantons took that figure to court and failed in their attempt to get an injunction.
At the big media April Fool event I had it cut to fourteen feet. After a full growing season the hedge had grown two feet; I repeated my intention for the same contractor to cut it to twelve feet, again this year.
The question was, would PT Stanton threaten that tough, determined Barry a second time?
Barry our tree surgeon dropped a note through the old mans letter box to warn him that his second vigorous line of trees would adversely affect the first hedge and probably kill it; his specialist advice was - reduce or remove his second line and he would supply a quote for the work.
I had started weeks ago to put together a nice, careful letter to Bernard (the old man) explaining everything and finished by expressing my wish for peace between us and our families but, the sting in the tail, he must pay me half the cost of this and last years maintenance and by the his trees were going to be trimmed again on 16th February.
I never I heard anything and eventually the Stantons got away without paying anything for maintenance by virtue of procrastination and a sublime piece of trickery with their next lawyer.
More importantly there was no word about compliance with the first bankruptcy order (this covered our Appeal Court costs that the Stanton lawyers had professionally guaranteed by word of honour). In fact the expiry date had now overrun.
We went to the Albion game to suffer the most appalling rubbish it finished with loud chants of Buckley (the manager) out some things remain the same.
Rays clerk called at our house after calling at the Stanton house to serve the first bankruptcy writ on the old man; he had refused to accept it. I rang Suzanne Virdee at the Birmingham Mail and she quizzed me for half an hour before ringing PTS. She came back to me; he had said to her,
Costs are being sorted out I am flabbergasted at the bankruptcy petition. John Wetherell (our tree expert at the trial) rang me; PTS had rung him again to see if he would still sell him his bill to me. This was another piece of trickery. John did not want to do this and was content with the thousand pounds I had paid him He honoured our friendship enough not to course me any more trouble. It was the fee the taxation court had awarded him though I doubt that did much to console him.
(Nothing at all to do with any of the above the above - I was introduced to TV actor and presenter Matthew Kelly; he was unveiling a plaque at the top of the croft my chapter is too full to go into this story and I mention it because the croft was often in the news for other reasons).
BBC Newcastle phoned me when and I recorded a piece for them.
Then Sid Orr, a Birmingham tree victim rang; he was in a right mess with his neighbour he wanted to meet in a pub and buy me a few pints. I just did not have the time, inclination or energy but I will tell you about him in a later chapter because he resolved his hedge problem in a novel, spectacular manner.
The good news was that Buckley; the Baggies manager had at last been sacked.
The next day Rod Williams was on the phone for ages and visited us for more than three hours the following afternoon; we arranged the big filming day for Sunday 15th February, the day before the second cutting/ annual maintenance).
Ray also told us that the final day of the County Court taxation would be 27th March.
On the Saturday Maureen Cozens a reporter with a national Sunday paper got a story from me.
Manager-less we went to the Hawthorns and got slaughtered by Ipswich 5-nil.
No rest on the Sabbath an ex-Baltic merchant navy hero rang he had chopped his neighbours Leylandii down refused to be represented by lawyers when hauled before the magistrates; they sent him to the Crown court had no money or property apart from a miserable merchant navy pension he refused to plead but said he would do the same thing again the judge also refused to send him to prison, instead fining him fifty pence per week.
Now my other Sunderland contact was Nora France, (a constituent of Chris Mullen a sympathiser MP I liked and with whom I had previous contact). She was among the first couple of dozen who wrote to me after getting my address from Garden News (the only news paper I allowed to publish my address - thus most of my first fifty followers were readers of this most popular newspaper). Ten years later Nora still keeps in touch; we exchange Christmas cards, her problem is not solved; her husband has recently died, stress being a factor. Ive never heard her voice for she has no phone but she still writes a good letter in firm attractive handwriting. She always wrote to who ever I recommended in my news letters her M.P. Chris Mullen became the first Hedge Minister - Nora educated him on hedge nuisance. I have written about Chris in an earlier chapter in regard to the Birmingham Pub bombing and the Six. (Birmingham people regard them as guilty).
Now, Mr Gibbons (hero) told me that Chris Mullen was his MP and as guilty as the Birmingham Six because, if he knew who had done the bombings, why did he not tell the police? I told Chris about this and he was very angry, but when he found out that he wasnt his MP, he was much relieved. Clearly Mr Gibbons, even if was not politically interested enough to know who his MP was, won the hearts of the North; the local media had not interested itself up till now about nuisance Leylandii: I now knew why Radio Newcastle had interviewed me. This was an outstanding story, covered in great depth. The national press, never particularly interested in anything outside London, let alone the far North, were drawn in. This was excellent publicity for my campaign; Stanton v Jones had great relevance once again.
Ray rings me again because he has at last managed to serve the first bankruptcy writ on the old man I want this £10.5K to stop me falling even more heavily in debt. Next day Ray rings yet again; he has been on the phone to Abe on an entre nous basis (I choke with rage) he obviously demands that his client must pay up because I cant pay him his fees and Abe had given his professional guarantee of ability to pay up should his clients Appeal in the High Court fail. Ray went on and we have heard it all before - the Stanton family has disintegrated and PTS would now pay up because the family would no longer support him Ray also says Nick Millard (our taxing specialist solicitor) was charging 7% for gaining the County Court Allocatur the potential subject of a second bankruptcy order for the Birmingham court costs.
BBC Gardeners Question Time came to George Cadbury Hall - my obvious question to the panel was not reached.
A letter came from Ray enclosing two bills from Nick for £1,100; dipping deep into our savings, (on paper I had a few pounds and my next pension) I sent the cheque; also another £500 to Ray with a letter expressing my anger that Abe had reneged on his guarantee that our Court of Appeal costs would be met.
I was still carefully composing that very crucial letter addressed to the old man giving him a fortnights notice about my decision to cut the trees again on 16th February. I had to take into consideration PTS possibly putting it before the District Judge my two previous experiences of Stanton applying for an injunction were that they were ex-parte. Now, to successfully stop him obtaining his injunction, my intention must be proved I wrote that this time I was to reduce the hedge to twelve feet - the Judge had allowed that, last year. I walked round to the old mans house and popped it through the letter-box; no one came to the door and no one saw me do it; that would have excited some local curiosity. A couple of days later PTS was seen visiting his Dad.
I had a long conversation with Margaret Hussey of the Sunday Express and we went into town to see the last day of the William Morris Exhibition.
Andrew White is a clever, Brighton accountant; the middle son of Molly our dear friend; he rang me,
The bankruptcy people will have picked up the story from the Sunday Express and instituted an embargo on any sale of the Stanton property by informing the Land Registry who will block any change of ownership.
The nation was delighted with the story of Midge Mathers. She was in despair at the persistent bell ringing sustained by a team of ardent campanologists from the next door church. She had pleaded and pleaded eventually they had yielded to her demands to curtail their enthusiasm but not enough to stop her going mad. Council officials had helped, so had the vicar and umpteen mediators; Midge had warned and warned and threatened and threatened and then as her mind snapped she struck again and again with a sledge hammer at the vestry door lock until it broke then she cut the bell ropes - and told the media; they just loved it. Midge was arrested and charged with criminal damage. My letter of support to her, addressed personally to the house next to the church with the smashed door and cut bell ropes was delivered next day by an indulgent Royal Mail sorting office and postman. Midge immediately phoned to say she was thrilled to get my letter she had followed my case closely and was pleased I had won. Her local magistrates sent her to the Crown Court. The Judge had some common sense,
You want me to fine you then you wont pay because you want me to send you to prison and I am going to deny you that pleasure.
Now Siguy Films (Carlton) were in regular touch with all those invited to our house for the filming of Neighbours from Hell. I also sent a welcome of my own to my guests I was treating it as my first campaign meeting and I was hoping to recruit them all as heads of a communication tree. (The idea was to get them to administer a list; two victims would get in touch with two more etc (in theory it should cover the planet in practice it never worked). Carlton Personnel Director, Annie Clayton rang Maureen in regard to catering we had to have red wine, a couple of bottles of medicinal gin for her staff, party goodies and, the receipts must be kept the bill was paid in cash - before the team departed with the unwrapped food and unopened bottles acidulously packed up and handed in by Maureen. We got nothing financially although I had to sign a restrictive contract preventing me going to another TV company.
Ray rings to say Abe is objecting to the costs of the costs of the County Court proceedings now listed for 27th March. This was purely recovering our costs of getting the Stantons to pay. Abe knew nothing about the Bankruptcy Court ominously and dangerously three weeks away on the 5th March and, nothing about the second cutting of the hedge.
Maureen is appointed governor of a local school and attends her first meeting.
Ray Hartford is appointed the new Albion manager. We say a tender goodbye to Chris off on his sky holiday.
I get fresh media releases ready for the second cutting; remember, journalists have already had plenty of advance notification.
Nowt from PTS; he wont be coping with the bankruptcy or my designs for the second hedge maintenance - but how is he going to re-act to this double pressure? The man truly hates me, mind, body and soul but, he wouldnt admit to having one. The adrenaline is pumping around me not having to deal with fear of losing our home this time around but the uncertainty of a really violent reaction very real stress is there but is masked by the hype. I dont feel physically top of the world the mouth ulcers are getting me down and my arthritic shoulders are dreadfully painful never mind, the phone keeps going people say such wonderful things to me and always, they have something really interesting this distracts the pain and I feel really, really good with earth moving potential.
I have sent a Valentine card, as I have done for years, to my dear darling granddaughter Michelle. She is seventeen today we never see her and that is pain of a different sort.
The Carlton team arrives early; cameras and equipment are unloaded and set up at crucial points the wine, glasses and gorgeous goodies are displayed everything is ready for the first guests.
Twenty people are filmed for hours in chatter, sipping and nibbling; secreted microphones gobble up snatches of conversation.
Ten years after I am looking at the entry in my diary; all it says is,
Phew, what a day that is because I was to knackered to do my diary
It will be five months before just fifteen minutes of that day it will be broadcast to eleven and a half million viewers.
Chris comes back from his ski-holiday and we go round to see him after everybody has gone.
Next day the hedge cutting meant to be another big media day but this time live - it is absolutely pouring down with rain. Tree contractors obviously cannot work in this tomorrow is booked but Wednesday at noon is OK; I ring around the media, local radio, TV and Birmingham Post and Mail to inform; then write and deliver a letter to update old man Stanton. I need not have done that and it changed things. But it is half term; Ian and the lads come round to eat up all the very best of the tasty, left- over scraps from yesterdays hospitality.
Tuesday is a feast of phone calls including an interesting one from Ray Burford; my solicitor has rung his opposite number Abe Lincoln; he knows nothing about the bankruptcy or the statutory order being served; in just another month, if our Appeal Court costs are not paid, his client will be bankrupt; absolutely amazing he does not know; your guess is as good as mine. However, hold on; at 7.30 am next day PTS drops a letter through our letter box it is written as if it were from his old man and it is certainly bears his shaky signature. It is another load of threatening bilge, that includes
---- the interpretation of the covenants which was stretched to its limits to save your neck ---- will not save you ---- the chances of any solicitor taking on your case when you are so heavily in debt to your present solicitor is very remote and your threats of attempting to bankrupt me are not going to gain you much sympathy. It is becoming well known that the Peeping Tom activity against my wife from your side of the fence came very close to driving her from ------- her untimely death followed so swiftly from the threat from a member of your family against her grandchildren -----.
We held our breath till high noon on the morrow.
Wednesday at twelve was not the huge, magnificent occasion of last year only the local media turned up; there was plenty of tea, coffee and snacks and they could help themselves; Maureen was away on her regular half term lunch date with her ex-colleagues.
All observers were amused to see PTS squeeze between his two hedges with a step ladder and establish himself on the top of it with his camera. He had in mind taking pictures of any attempts to cut his second row of trees I had not the slightest intention of testing his reaction to such a deed. Stanton jnr. made no protest as the contractors cut down the old hedge to twelve feet he had at last accepted the law as laid down by the courts. Now for the first time the new row of trees showed themselves above the old ones. The debris and was cleared and taken away well before two oclock. I was past being hungry, somehow there had been no time for breakfast I gobbled a sandwich and nodded off to sleep. The phone rang; it was Radio 5; the caller wanted John and Brenda Laws and me on a programme next day at 11 am. That was my busy life nowadays and it would get worse over the next few years so would the performance of the Baggies.
I sent Mr.P., the Stanton barrister; a copy of the stupid letter from his stupid client pointing out that his Peeping Tom idea had been started by him. There was never any possibility of him replying; his professional indiscretion was still bubbling around the Bar Council and Legal Services Ombudsman.
We join Weight Watchers.
Ray told me he had faxed a copy of Paul Terrys letter to old Abe and then rang him; he still maintains he knows nothing about the bankruptcy.
Then a letter shock it was from Insolvency Practitioners Haines Watts on behalf of Charles Bernard Stanton, pointing out that their client had no money and no property he was prepared to offer £6000 from his last remaining assets, now being shared out. I high-tailed it off to CRIS my Community Printers; they had just acquired a fax machine, and faxed it to Ray and to Andrew White, our accountant friend in Brighton. By the time I got back home and rang Ray, he had already rung Haines Watts to tell them that their client had started Stanton v Jones as sole owner of his property; on a firm note - when the bankruptcy statutory order had run its legal course in five days time it would be presented before the court. Andrew White confirmed again that that the order would have been with the land registry for some. It was at this point that I tried to find out if it was Abes previous firm of solicitors had conveyed the property and, exactly when of course it was before my trial had finished - the judge should have been told and he would have stopped the trial.
Maureen booked me appointment with our GP on the grounds I was showing signs of stress I made a note, my blood pressure was 168; that meant absolutely nothing in those days; I was determined to leave that sort of thing to my doctor the electro-cardiograph reading was fine.
The media, now well informed of the impending bankruptcy hearing, were always ringing. I had a long interview on Radio WM at 5 oclock and when that was finished a long session with Kilroys researcher both Maureen and I were wanted on that programme.
5th March Bankruptcy Court - old Abe handed me a cheque, made out from his client account for £10,500 - at the court door. The Press Association and the Express and Star were represented; there were reports in the papers and radio. I felt hyped up this first chunk of costs significantly relieved our financial situation; it settled Ray and his position with his partners in his firm; secondly, this was Stanton paying specifically for his ill advised, expensive venture into the Appeal Court, three and a half years ago. This was our money we paid up front to our Counsel and to Loxton and Wassall) solicitors.
Ray had just found out from old Abe that the Stantons had no intention of going bankrupt they may piddle about, umming and arring, a bit here or a bit there, here or there a bit but, come three weeks time, the final end to the litigation started six years the £35,000 County Court Allocatur (the Judges writ of costs) would be served.
Spirits were further enhanced by a four nil Baggies win glory at last. The last taste of glory was an astonishing fifteen months ago when we won in court. I always modestly referred to Stanton loosing on the grounds that there could be no winners in this war of attrition. However, since our famous victory we often waived our arms at his house and yelled,
Ha, ha we won, you lost. Yes, you are dead right that is triumphalism.
I was waking up far too early; it enabled me to keep up with correspondence - too much was going on and I started to retrospect and get very angry with the Stantons for what they had put us through.
There had been a by-election in Dudley. M.P. John Gilbert had gone to the House of Lords he was wanted as a Labour Minister of Defence; he packed up his arduous constituency affairs. I felt disappointed; he had supported our campaign. However, Denis Harris, a constituent of his was quick off the mark; he attended the first surgery of his new MP Ian Pearson victor by a massive majority. Ian assured Denis of his complete support.
Sue and John Clay, our next door but two neighbours dropped in to see us. We were upset about Johns appearance he had lost weight and was not his usual cheerful self we all would have been devastated to know precisely then, that he would not have much longer to live.
I was busy potting and sowing how happy this makes me. I delivered my share of the meeting notices for the gardening club long gone are the days when Chris and Andrew were little, chuckling and fighting, posted the notices through the letter boxes I had to do it myself the exercise was good for me.
I helped Maureen deliver her Labour Party members leaflets to the flats we had developed a technique take the lift to top, Maureen gets out top but one and post through boxes on alternative floors on way on the way down; I go up to top floor and do likewise. Yes, the election has to be held, Major is running into the constitutional buffers all we want is the date.
Every day there was a new hedge victim contact previous contacts were writing and phoning, reporting results of their activities more and more MPs, still in the old parliament, were supporting us.
The Legal Service Ombudsman had much to deal with as she studied the results of hours and hours of consideration of my referrals to the Bar Council and Law Society.
Then there was the Advertising Standards Authority they had to assess the appropriateness of Recorder Woltans Chambers (he was their president) advertisement in the Birmingham Law Societys (solicitors) Gazette. Really, my resentment was inaccuracy and my object - to force publication of a correction. Nothing came of my referral but it was all part of my publicity campaign throughout the legal circles, nationally and locally it kept them chatting and the hedge issue alive.
We had the usual Noon on Sunday local derby match with the Blues and won two nil we then returned to a lovely meal prepared by Maureen and watched the recording of the match after that; a great day.
27th March. Court again. This I assure you is the last BUT one and writing ten years after almost to the day, it is a fact. (This was the Costs of the Costing of the County Court i.e. the adjournment of the January hearing). My diary has the entry A block busting day. Old Abe starts the proceeding by announcing he has left his firm and now works at another City Centre, solicitors. Ray cant explain to me and (never does so we can guess all we like). Ray does not come to court this day on grounds of excess costs (i.e. his fee; the court will not allow him at Stanton expense on the grounds he is not necessary. I cant afford him he is just not needed - Nick Millard (our taxation lawyer) is a brilliant professional who was, this court day, just dealing with his own costs - he got everything he asked for from the judge Stanton had to pay for all this so stupid really because he could have saved thousands by accepting Nicks costings at the very beginning; now he had to pay for Nicks work and presentation before the judge - £3375; we could have shared that figure if he had just paid up a year ago. Better still we could have saved his 7 ½% commission. (Still, it provided work for Nick, didnt it?) I was very sore because Nick would not list many of my expenses but I expect PTS preferred to pay him rather than me. There was a report of the hearing in the local press and probably on radio but nothing on TV.
Then nothing to do with that, our second petition for bankruptcy (County Court costs) was granted a hearing for 16th April. This really was the last court day that never was because, infuriatingly it was immediately dismissed, although the allocatur (the Judges official writ for taxed costs) was before the court. An appeal from us was possible but it would take a long time so Ray served yet another Statutory Order to start a brand new bankruptcy process all over again Stanton had to pay) ; this is probably what the judge intended although I was never exactly sure what was in his honours mind. Abe was not present; he had mixed the two bankruptcy procedures up completely forgetting he had handed me a cheque at the court door for the first one. Actually he did not even know what that one was for, until an hour before he arrived at court. This latest one was far beyond him Ray told me he was f*****g stupid.
There was still a long way to go. With all this expensive fuss, we had not been paid our County Court costs and the issue of the second line of trees had still not been resolved; the latter was not Rays responsibility; he was only responsible for costs - I had been conducting boundary maintenance procedures with the Stantons myself.
Ian spoke to the newly appointed secretary of the Bournville Village Trust, Paul Clayburn and was told that they had had received Counsels advice on whether the BVT could take action on our behalf. This, of course would be in respect of a second, different covenant to the hedge along the boundary one with which I had won my big trial. I remind my readers; BVT always could have acted years twenty years ago and prevented all this strife. You might say the Stantons would have fought back but never in court. BVT would be the big guy with resources mine were limited. Stanton thought they could force us to sell up our home exhaust our resources - even now at this very last moment.
What were the positives for us of Stanton v Jones? We were famous, and that was about all but we could have done without that.
Neighbours from Hell had not yet been broadcast. The second line of trees had not yet become a nuisance but a visible menace it was just an openly expressed Stanton threat to grow it to the stratosphere.
Ian and I share the same birthday as the Queen. He was Maureens gift to me on 21st April 1953. Forty-four years later he bought me a bottle of Irish whiskey. Then there was an ICM poll, on our birthday, just eleven days before polling day, predicting a narrow Tory victory it was a rogue, typically produced about this length of time before every General Election Day everyone knew there was going to a be a crushing Labour victory, but no one knew that for absolute sure. (Maureen was certain of another Labour defeat). The truth came in the very early hours of Friday 2nd May.
We were so worried about John Clay who was deteriorating day by day.
So Polling Day arrives and Ray rings old Abe, the Stanton solicitor, to tell him our Statutory Order expires a week tomorrow and we have no compassion and mean business. Abe, as usual knows nothing about it. Ray was then off to collect numbers at his local polling station for his Labour candidate in a safe Tory seat safe that was until evening when panic calls go out for more help from the perfectly safe Labour seats - the Tories are not pulling out their vote; Labour can win. I go out and buy six bottles of different real ales to sustain me through the night then I have a mid-day knap to last me. I went to bed next at ten past five next morning; five hours later we watch Tony Blair going to the Palace. The new ministers are announced. Wonderful!
On the Saturday Ian mends the computer it crashes again when he has gone and in the afternoon the Baggies lose to Stoke in the worst game we have ever seen. Back to normality!
A week goes by and John and Sue call; John is dreadfully thin and ragged.
Ray rings to say old Abe has asked for an extra 24 hours at the expiry of the writ tomorrow: I tell him not under any circumstances - just get on with it Ray says he will ring back tomorrow but he doesnt until next Wednesday and then to great joy he tells me that Stanton jnr had delivered a cheque for £30,000 I said it should be more; afterwards I found out that he had it last Friday and it was £36,000.
This was of such importance and Ray was not being straight with me; he held fourteen grand of the money we paid him; now he had £60K in his account and it went to his head but he was my friend and he had held out for years for his fees and trusted me, although he had regular tranches of cash from me and I paid all the big bills - I now had to trust him. I see his point in holding out on me for a while then it became slowly apparent he had no intention of ever paying us back anything. Stanton v Jones was over and now what I could not have possibly anticipated - Jones v Burford had begun.
My diary records bits and pieces about family, friends and neighbours but as it would lead me into long distractions and bore you but this one is amusing. The Stantons had already poured out £55K into their own lawyers pockets, two years ago - now in a couple of months they paid another £45K to my lawyers a hundred and ten thousand pounds - a terrific hole in their mothers legacy (she had been the one with the money) the vastness of this squandering had split the family; yet it seemed he wished to risk more.
We went to a concert given by Maureens old choir at the cathedral on the Saturday evening. Car parking was strictly forbidden yet PTSs Jaguar, on its own, with its personalised number plate, was outside the vestry door. We had to pass by it and I paused just long enough to see inside - there was expensive video equipment and a jacket which had slipped off the seat opened a pocket, and a wallet, was spilling out notes and cards. Paul Terry must have felt guarded from above, outside this sanctified territory. When we entered the building it was obvious it was being prepared for filming. I thought it was our concert but no, it was for the installation of the new bishop next day.
On the Tuesday John is taken into hospital and it is confirmed next day he has cancer; he comes home at the end of the week.
We open our garden to members of the Gardeners Association and get scores of visitors. We have worked on it for weeks it was a good PR exercise. By the 8th June I am lucky - Ian was given a broken computer by a neighbour and he removes its keyboard to replace mine, which is faulty now I am in business again I have my printer and can send out my campaign letters to the new Labour Ministers. Ten years later it is has packed up again, although I only use to open up these ancient discs when researching my old files for the purpose of this book
The 2nd of July it is Michelles 17th birthday I have sent her a card and money but did not have a reply; the cheque was never paid in it would be pure conjecture to guess whether or not she had received it.
A few days later the first trailers of me on Neighbours from Hell appear on ITV and become progressively more numerous with many more people; the local press latch on. So, at last, another long awaited day arrives 14th July as good a date as any, at least for the French. I test and re-test the video recorder and put on a new tape. All the things that have gone wrong with video recording key programmes in the past; now I checked and re-checked. Maureen has never watched any hedge programme and goes to bed.
Brenda Laws rings only seconds after the broadcast to eleven and a half millions; we have a long conversation. There is a very patronising review of our middle-class buffet reception and polite conversation in the Guardian next day. I am thrilled because the programme achieved the most important things; the prime purpose for Carlton - attracting massive viewing figures with its associated advertising revenues for me it was popularist and promoted my campaigning zeal to get a change in the law.
Maureen, overcoming her shyness, joined the local bowling club at the beginning of the season and has settled in so well she has bought her own set of bowls. Her previous reluctance to join was entirely due to what she perceived as bad publicity I always took the view that public opinion was massively in our favour. There were only four antagonistic callers out of thousands of telephone calls and not one poison pen letter - unfortunately Maureen took two of those calls.
I jotted notes about many long conversations in busy, eventful weeks. There were far too many to record all in my diary. I never took case notes when taking a call but recorded the address and telephone number; the list was growing.
On the last day of July I get a phone call from Hereford Police Station. Landowner Foley (he was the guy harassing John and Brenda Laws, and well covered by the programme) has been receiving anonymous threats of violence since the Carlton broadcast; I was asked if I knew anyone who might be the sender of these notes. The Police Officer was very friendly, knowing who he was speaking to; as a local man he knew all about Foley; the man was notorious in the area and had allegedly dumped his wife, who was locally popular, for a younger model. By the end of this particular week my support was accelerating.
There were further victims, more journalists; the mailbags of the new crop of Labour MPs were growing. Prior to the General Election, Tory MPs represented the leafy suburban areas, Labour the congested urban ones with fewer hedges; no longer.
Pete Spybey called to relate how PTS threw a temper tantrum in the Sainsbury queue and stormed out leaving his loaded trolley.
Every night our two window cleaners frequented different pubs the BVT Estate doesnt have any but there are plenty on the fringes every fortnight they told us the pub chatter I was known as the Hedgeman.
There are floods not far away but drought here, so watering must go on in fact for the next few days we have blistering weather. It is the first day of the football season and just too hot; we won but Ians car was broken into; he had removed his radio but the broken window and door damage took him a long time to repair. At a repair shop it would have been very expensive.
The present seemed as good a time as any to face up to my neighbours on the south side. Their Leylandii were the worry now, not the Stantons till now I had declined to fight on two fronts. Most people would expect the Williams to be sensitive about the issue as the saga had unfolded over the years. Not a bit of it. Perception was not an attribute, sensitivity not an emotion the couple possessed; they couldnt give a damn for others, outside their immediate family; they certainly hated me. Meeting them was not a prospect I relished but, it had to be faced. Unlike old man Stanton who, twenty-six years ago, interplanted the boundary beech with his tiny Leylandii saplings; his Witherford Way contemporary, with the property at right angles to him and at exactly the same time, planted hers in one line, in well prepared ground, six feet away from the beech and fence. Now the judgement of the County and Appeal Courts might or might not apply we would have to go to court again for that. True, the covenant that BVT eventually used for the Stanton second line of trees, that comes up later in my book would apply but I couldnt use it, myself, nor force the Trust to do it for me. (That is a complex bit of legal advice again it might hinge on a court judgement). The property owner at the time, Miss Thomson, a single professional woman had a little more common sense and foresight than Stanton, although just as objectionable. I found her singularly unpleasant, snooty, sour, dismissive and patronising assuming her higher class status particularly against Maureen. The Williams when they bought the property easily assumed this attitude - I clashed with them within a day or two of them moving in, about an all night smouldering garden fire by my bedroom window on a sultry hot summer night. I had a fist put in front of my face by a father of one of the couple when I called at the house next morning,
Saw him off, OK They were reputed to have boasted. They also ripped up their hedge bordering the croft and burnt it in a barn storming, smoky fire. I tried to gain rapport with David (Mr) with football conversations after a few years he would be working in his front garden relations were always a bit strained. It would have been best to air my frustrations honestly and straightforwardly but, I bottled it. He was that bit easier to get on with than his wife as he had a trace of sensitivity and a tiny desire for some rapport the sons were firework fanatics and that posed problems as their noisy pyrotechnics started a month before bonfire night and continued to New Years Eve. Above all the Williams were in denial about their hedge nuisance; but as a couple they were not at all bothered about neighbourly good relationships Barbara was reputedly a school friend of a Stanton daughter-in-law.
I was always counselling victims who phoned me to approach neighbours eyeball to eyeball so I took my own advice and delivered a letter suggesting a meeting.
Denis Howell rang me he had made an appointment to meet Angela Eagle, a new minister in DETR (Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions) a colossal department headed by Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.
Denis, when he left Cabinet Office eighteen years ago, had been in the Department of the Environment. I made a brief diary note that our conversation did not progress. Denis wanted all our campaigning to stop until after the meeting scheduled for late October he could not accept that the campaign was gaining momentum, and was really convinced his initiative, alone would bring about law change. His self-perception was that of elder statesman. My main worry was whether our Austrian coach holiday would be finished and enable me to see the Minister. Lynne Jones, our excellent MP since 1992 was in a much better position to give support to the campaign now that the ministers concerned were in government and some in government were her own personal friends. Nora France in Sunderland who was doing exactly what I was asking all victims to do. Bertha Gill of Cumbria retained a permanent cynicism of politicians but nevertheless continually pounded Dale Cambell-Savors, MP for Workington; he responded well, got the sympathy of the County Council but both were powerless in the absence of the law. Lynne, Chris Mullen, Dale and Denis were four people of towering strength to put the case before the Minister I was not needed.
We are now in mid- August the weather is very hot and my diary entries are sparse the reason being not enough time to record the shear volume of detail in the mail and calls. I do not make notes but enter names and addresses on my list and even this becomes burdensome; from time to time from now on I telephone the list to Max and he puts them on his computer data base; the snag is the double transcription I make mistakes particularly those taken from the answer phone; all too often the caller does not give their correct address; all too many dont know their correct post codes.
Maureen mentions neglect of garden but it is more than that; we have only one phone line and friends and family are finding difficulty in getting through relationships are strained.
I am alone in administering the campaign, desperately in need of another line and a secretary; the focus of media and victims demands falls upon me. I am matching these victims and their stories with local radio and newspapers. Most often a victim will tell me it is a waste of time contacting the MP. It shocks me that very educated, intelligent people do not realise that change in statute law has to take place through the political process i.e. parliament. I had done my bit in changing case law and that more than anything changed hearts and minds; I continued to do that through the media because my case is quoted in any news item, after the predicament of a victim is put before the public.
Each year we go to stay for a couple of days with Molly and Tony in Brighton; they take Maureen to Glynbourne for a prestigious picnic and opera. A share of the gorgeous food is left behind for me; I visit open gardens advertised in the Yellow Book; the area lies on chalk which offers an alkaline habitat to garden flora in contrast to the acid clay of our garden. I make friends and am recognised by fellow visitors. I dont appreciate opera or possess a dinner jacket and bow tie; but did enjoy the gardens; as a stranger it was difficult locating these places and I lost my way sometimes; it was particularly irksome going miles on a freeway and having to turn back. However, it was a complete break for Maureen. After only two nights away there were calls and letters to answer and everything, the baskets and troughs were dry.
At the end of August the Williams cut the trees to 15 feet without responding to my invitation for a meeting; they are 30 feet away from our living room at the side of our house so this is less than satisfactory it is pig ignorance of course but at least it is some response as we did not know if they intended any cutting at all. It is annoying because I cant gain access from my side of the boundary to all that needs pruning it needs the youth and equipment of the contractor he doesnt know there are parts of beech tree to cut in line with the fence, he needs to be part of a consultation.
Sainsburys Magazine had a picture of the Williams Leylandii and an article the photographer had taken it three weeks before they had come to take the Stanton hedge but it was now unsuitable for the story they had in mind as it was no longer of nuisance height an inconvenient fact for the particular report. The magazine had reached Sainsburys stores in the north of England and in Brighton last week but had only just reached Selly Oak.
I had to spend a day in Prospect Road, Moseley for Channel 4 Gardening Club; the road had five gardens in the Open Garden Scheme Yellow book and I had visited them regularly. The team had incurred the expense of a Cherry Picker to sling a camera man in the crane bucket lifted above the high roof tops to photograph a high hedge. I was videoed from above and on the ground making my speech, and the director allowed to entertain the owners and onlookers and was clapped and cheered. Then I was told that was not what was wanted at all; in fact it was only my presence as an extra that was wanted to add interest because my garden and I was so widely known. When finding out my agenda clashed seriously with that of the programme I wanted to return home however I was told I would be needed again. At the end of the day we were in an allotment it was raining and they told me to take off my coat as it interfered with the continuity; we waited for a train to go past then started again; this time it was a helicopter and I got absolutely soaked, was hungry. At sixty-nine years old this was too much I did not like taking risks -what a wasteful, frustrating day with only a couple of minutes, irrelevant to the campaign, in the broadcast.
Then Di, Princess of Wales was killed.
Sue and John visited us next day; John looked so much better and had recovered his sense of humour.
I wrote a carefully constructed letter to the Williams inviting them to come through the back gate at 10 oclock next Saturday or alternative date for a conversation and to see the their hedge from our side. They did not ring or write but did arrive to confront their hedge monstrosity; on prompting they admitted they had followed Stanton v Jones and were fully appraised of the legal status of the chain link fence and beech hedge it wasnt exactly rocket science. Barbara was cold, impassive and unyielding and in charge but both of them was taken aback by the size of the beech hedge which I had let grow in height but did not overlap the fence by much; of course, its natural tendency was to grow into beech trees. They patronisingly offered me permission to control its size exactly as their predecessor had done, as I thought fit; they admitted knowing that legally it was a joint responsibility and David offered to share the cost I was growing it to cover their ugly Leylandii. Beech offers beautiful lovely autumn colour for a couple of months. I told them I was relieved when, in response to my note they had reduced their trees but sadly not taken enough off; we were always worried if they intended to cut it or to leave it to grow, as did the Stantons. David responded by pledging to maintain annually. Little did he know that he would shortly die of cancer.
Mother Teresa died aged eighty-seven on September 5th.
Dis funeral was broadcast what a day of saga and sadness and how fascinating to foresee to this day as I am writing. Ten years later, Lady Butler-Sloss was appointed to conduct the inquest. She did not want a jury there was an appeal and she was made to have a jury she withdrew and another coroner was appointed he withdrew. The inquest goes on and on and on. The circumstances of the princesss death will never be resolved to everyones satisfaction. And also ten years later we look at the DVD of the Oscar film The Queen the Hollywood version of events. On funeral day, the Baggies match with Reading was wisely postponed until next day we win and move to the top of the league, but dont get excited - it is early in the season.
I get a letter from the national office of Victim Support objecting to the use of their name in media reports I write back to say we have never used it and would ask our supporters not to but they must address their complaints to the particularly media address using it.
Andrew is fifteen and we celebrate his quietest ever anniversary.
Beccy and Liz Clay our adoptive granddaughters, gems in our lives, live next door but two- they had grown up so quickly. They had a tiny, toy Jack Russell bitch who loved visiting us; we were very fond of it and looked after it for the odd day and night: it was very old in doggy terms. Beccy visited us and we performed a consoling role and shared their sadness; next day the girls visited the vet and made the crucial decision. We miss a great canine character and were so glad she was spared suffering.
Maureen goes to visit John Clay on his birthday and returned feeling distressed as he was so ill. His birthday present from Sue and the girls was a trip on Concord a life long ambition his was too ill to go.
Ians next door neighbour, Jerry Richmond dies of a similar cancer he was so young - a local artist, craftsman and servant of the local community.
6th October. Sue Clay calls at 7pm and again forty-eight hours later; she had taken John to hospital earlier in the day for the removal of his Hickman line and for a pleural effusion; he had not eaten. Very reluctantly and regretfully he accepts that he has only weeks to live. Sue has tremendous faith; she takes a glass of sherry, radiates dignity, courage and positivism. It is an inspiring experience.
Max reports 700 victims on our contacts list it has been too big for me to handle for a couple of months yes, I had sent them my current updated welcome news sheet, within a few days my computer was very useful for that but it would be another three years before I had a PC, Internet and, of course email above all a grammar / spell check. Now we needed some serious funding. I posted Clare the copy of my news and a questionnaire we discussed it over the phone and she produced a quality document. Max visited, picked it up, photocopied it and printed out sticky labels. Irene, his wife packed and posted them. We the sat back and awaited the responses to our questionnaire and requests for donations.
I posted a cheque and birthday card to Anthony, our dear grandson whom we did not see; he would be fourteen on the 15th of October.
We went on our well deserved holiday.