1991. STANTON TURNS REALLY NASTY
Every living thing is busy in spring. Visitors described our land as the botanical gardens. The available space was exploited to the absolute limits of seven boundaries and included two large, heated greenhouses each busting at the seams with fast growing seedlings. The fragile things pleaded for more light we knew that feeling. They must be urged outside for the natural watering of the rain and not get cooked by rising indoor temperatures that can rise to phenomenal figures with all vents and windows open. Any danger of frost and boxes and pots must be covered or brought back inside. The later the season progressed the less danger and severity but a fifteen year old memory of a heavy frost in an early seventies June ruined thousands of small horticultural firms. That was most unusual, but for a century, old gardeners practised sixth of May, runner bean day on the assumption that seeds sown needed three weeks to germinate and burst their dicotyledons through the protection of the soil surface by which time it would be assumed all frosts would be over. There are frost pocket valleys outside warmer town areas, particularly but not necessarily in the north. Experienced locals know their own patch but I aware of variation within my own garden and know the nasty little frost hollows into which the scorching liquid pours as burning lava from a volcano.
It would be nice to book the last two places on a 5-day Dutch package coach holiday, but could it be fitted into my gardening schedule? Would it be worth risking my precious plantlets drying in possible blazing mid-day sun outside me and no rain and perhaps a nip of frost in the early morning? Would we be lucky and avoid those hazards?
The outlook from our windows was the best for sixteen years. Light streamed over the fourteen feet hedge into house and garden. Please take a close studied look at the hedge. The end three trunks are obliterated by foliage but can you make out the next seven trunks yes, those with the ugly, saw flat surfaces level with the top - just peeping out from thin foliage? In January, I stood close in and peered within inches, pushing aside scant but ever thickening foliage, growing up from the base and touched one-foot thick, ugly brown stalks of the once primary trunk, eight feet of them covered but baring no foliage of its own, at all. To the all consuming rage of my neighbour, three years ago I sawed off six feet lateral branches taking up my land and had created this condition. This remaining wood was totally and, typical of the species, permanently incapable of regenerating any green tissue could be considered dead by now and, as such no use to the plant; in fact in the fullness of time rot would set in and the fungal growth would spread. These obsolete, thick wooden stalks obstructed light from my side penetrating into the crown of the hedge. One by one I had silently sawed through the soft wood of three of them with my one-foot pruning saw, from a stool, easily two feet above ground level. Each one would take an hour of sawing for fifteen minutes at a time over a couple of days. Mixed with ordinary routine garden tasks it was possible even with my painful arthritic shoulders .A young man could do it within minutes. Careful now! You have to be ready and alert when a trunk was cut right through. My careful precision, horizontal cut held the trunk balance in a vertical position for a second, then dropping the saw, it was tossing the caber as the weighty object was semi-lifted and pushed in the opposite direction that I was going myself plummeted with a dull thud on the ground. Over a day or two it was cut twice again and the portable, for my limited strength, three feet chunks were lugged to the boot of our hatchback. The men at the Council tip loved them, chopped them into logs and burnt them illegally in their open fireplaces. No one else from either the Jones or Stanton side noticed my activity or missed the sight of these trunks. Just below my saw cuts were powerfully growing six-inch thick side trunks spreading six feet out and upwards on the Stanton side and kept the hedge at fourteen feet tall with no change in height. The whole of the growing strength and nourishment of a forest tree was now pouring into these upward growing side branches instead of to the growing tip on twenty-seven feet of central stem and massive branches on either side. These take over side replacements photosynthesised rapidly and loving my new daylight creation in the centre, thickening out the hedge. The time had come to me to take out four more trunks but the remaining three would have to remain because the side branches on the Stanton side were differently placed and the rising sap was keeping them alive.
The ninth annual Selly Oak Easter Peace Festival was over at last and I breathed a sigh of relief after a years effort. No one realised it would be the last one an irrefutable fact, entirely attributable to the Stantons. I tried and tried to get someone or a group to take over from me. The unpaid, very skilled political savvy and consistent work involved, prevented even our most able, hard workers from taking the job on. The first factor stopping me was my involvement in a nasty, neighbour dispute disqualifying me from my position as guru of the event. It would not do for the head Peacenik to be perceived as a warring neighbour. Secondly, it became obvious that all my emotional reserves must be devoted to our domestic survival. Thirdly, there was no time and energy to spare. However this 1981 event was my last and it was a magnificent feat of organisation on my part. No other individual could have brought together all political parties, Christian faiths, atheists, trade unions and scores of single issue wonks. It was no mass national event but that was never the aim.
Earth Day was this years title and then continue to be the new regular annual name. Yes, my hope was that the idea would spread and at 63 years old I intended to be around for many years to make it so. The local mass distribution free newspaper was put through thousands of letterboxes the previous day and the kind editor sent a reporter and devoted the whole of its front page to us. The Tories came and their local MP Roger King was on the platform and he and his supporters quite naturally, although it was an all time first, took their place in an all community event and clapped and supported their leader who was speaking in green, not Tory, cold war terms. Communism was over and Roger was by profession a car salesman, able and willing to articulate a more appealing theme to fit the changed world. Sadly for him the political tide was turning so fast he was about to lose his vulnerable seat and go back to selling cars. Thatcherism was dead but although people hated the woman who instigated it they still wanted a bit more of her strength and discipline but with a bit of tender talk and gloss. This was an ideal scenario for Roger for a constituency other than his but he was too late in his political day for his party to find him one of their soon to diminish, numbers of winnable seats.
I kept it a strict secret that behind the scenes of the days activity there was internal bad temper and ill feelings with jobsworth attitudes in the halls booking administration and caretaking staff nearly wrecking the whole thing. Delay in opening doors, failure to be sensitive to the occasion unloaded undeserved worry on to me and forcing me to make decisions in direction not understood by others. There was petty rivalry and nastiness between some groups and hysteria from an animal-rights activist group. A highly intelligent, educated audience of our ever expanding opinion base asked the ecumenical, all-party panel the most searching questions. The event was the product of a years slog and despite the rewards I was exhausted, glad to get rid of it and determined I wouldnt allow the hall administration staff to do this to me next year. In the event I didnt have to. As every year I did not let my tired desperation show and said we would meet again in 1992.
Yes, both Maureen and I badly needed a break and booked the last place on the Holland coach. Start preparing my plants, now. Going green was the theme of the moment. Taking up the usable resources of the peat bogs had to stop. You cannot use the present day John Innes composts any more; non-soil composts are finished forever unless using peat alternatives. Cocoanut fibre is a renewable resource, expensive yes, but what is the price of a clear conscience? The pots, troughs, boxes were filled the unfamiliar, untried material and the hanging baskets were made ready and placed in the sheltered position of a south wall. The plants were not appreciative of my efforts. Sure the rooting medium was moist. Yes, test it four times a day and it is so wet you dont water any more. But the little treasures were not leaping into this new stuff as they did in previous years. Try lifting one or two out, there is less rooting now than when put in. Why? It was as dry as dry can be. Wet at the top dry at the bottom. Have to water but compost soggy at the top, so I give up and want to get away.
Time to go on holiday so hang up the baskets in their summer positions a bit early but any nip of frost would be at ground level. Ask the grandsons to water? The prospect reminded me of a reference give to a garden apprentice youth applying for his first promotion more than a century earlier ago the rough statement,
He can water. Maureen and I have never agreed on how much water to give houseplants and many times she has drenched the poor things after chastising me for laziness when I have just only just watered. Against my better instincts late on the final evening the plants were given good soaking with a prayer that it may rain a little just once or twice. It didnt of course; it rained and rained every day. Upon return the baskets were soaked and the plants were decidedly groggy. The other containers faired little better. It was not going to be a good year, but really you cant go on holiday with my sort of gardening.
Was it the really good holiday we really wanted and deserved? There were snags. A lot of waiting about for coach when the driver was late, the we went past our road two hours later then stopped in less than half an hour for the hour long statutory breakfast. We missed the ferry and we spent seven hours at Folkestone for the next one, not arriving for our by then unwanted, dried up meal not long after midnight. What a waste of time.
My heart was in my garden and I wanted to be there in charge and dreamed,
Carry on getting that hedge in good condition; it would be a proud feature of my garden. Oh yes, that was a smart challenge. As it was so close to the house at a narrow part of the garden it would always be dominant and out of scale but, realistically it would have to remain over size because it was not in my garden, was not mine and I did not have final say. At least after these years it was of acceptable appearance after tons of material had been shorn from its forest status it would soon be in splendid condition. Last week I had already sawn silently, three-quarters way through each of my targeted bare four trunks that touched the Stanton side of the chain link fence, certainly they were not in my property. These would be toppled completely a day or two after our return. My tiny saw had not made any noise and my neighbour could not get near them because he had six feet of stout, unyieldable, foliage laden branches to thick to be pushed aside.
After the wasted hours, on the ferry and on the coach again it was dark, uninteresting, and sleep was impossible. To alleviate boredom, think of Paul Terry Stanton. Now, that was interesting because when we returned he would have been before the magistrate, fined and acquired a criminal record. That perked me up and made me feel better but at the same revived resentful feelings that his old man had not been punished for his wicked assaults on me. Never mind, Stanton the younger could take the punishment for both but then oh perish the thought - would the police press charges? Would the Crown Prosecution Service take PTS into court? Perish the thought. Up to a couple of months previously I had forgotten about his assault, September, last year. It was not worth thinking about. Was it possible for a bloke to barge into his elderly neighbours garage and knock him to the floor and get away with it completely? Compared with unconvicted, horrible crime all around one had to get a sense of proportion. Then I thought of Maureen ringing me a couple of months ago whilst I was at the printers, her agitated voice said,
The police have rung, they have arrested Terry Stanton, please contact them on this number, now. I tried and tried but could not get a connection and returned home and rang the police again without success.
Where is Stanton now, I demanded of Maureen.
In a police cell, she replied. My imagination pictured the confined man on a stool desperately looking up, Oscar Wilde-like at a tiny barred window above him and it convulsed me with laughter. Maureen went on,
It is not funny it is very serious. Truly it had never occurred to me that it would work out like this. I just assumed he would be interviewed under caution, at home, summoned to appear, plead guilty and take a conditional discharge with moderate costs. It was impossible to get through to the police via any number so I drove the five minutes down the road to the station. The sergeant and WPC were in stitches, cynical beyond belief that I had to call in because the phones did not work. A new system had been installed only that morning. Their story was that they had been calling on Stanton for months and he had refused to talk. So they waited this morning until he came out of the house to go to work, pounced on him then took him literally kicking and screaming to the station. He had kicked the police car and struck the WPC. They had already interviewed him at length and he had said a lot of nasty things about me. The sergeant said,
Better get back to him now and see what other rubbish hes got he has to tell us.
So our coach lumbered on to our Dutch hotel went on through the night and there would plenty of time left, on the holiday and on the return journey to think. You were glad to get back home then, you ask? The state of my plants upset me and the message from the police next day irritated me more, Stanton was pleading not guilty and my presence in court would not be required till September. Next day, to relieve my exasperation, I sawed through the last little bit of three nine foot trunks, and they thudded to the ground. Each were sliced into three hefty chunks and taken to the tip.
We were having our driveway block paved so it would be out of use for ten days and the car had to stay in the roadway. The cartons of paving blocks were unloaded on to the grassed area but the skip for the debris had to be dumped on the road and all became grossly inconvenient to neighbours. I sawed through the final quarter of the final trunk and got a couple of blokes to carry it in one piece, saving further sawing, to the skip. That was a big mistake because it advertised what no one knew I had done. Our workmen noticed a group of people standing stretched on their toes in the lower part of the croft pointing over the sub-station to the hedge. There was nothing to see. Nobody from our side had reported noticing anything different. From the Stanton side it would be necessary to put oneself into acute bodily discomfort, within inches of the hedge and force branches aside in order to see the see the cut face and space where the trunks used to be. You certainly would not escape being scratched even painfully if branches sprang back.
I received a letter from the Stanton solicitor on Saturday 28th June 1991 and briefly stating,
- - - - You have reduced the height of trees by 9 feet and in the last two days have cut about 6 feet from the trunks ---
Unless an undertaking is given that you will not persist in such behaviour is received by Monday 1st July an interlocutory injunction and/or damages will be sought
My works were finished for a year or two, the hedge was healthy and rapidly filling out and thickening and all of it situate on the Stanton side not taking up space in the narrow part of my garden. It was still too tall and could not be clipped without ladders but that did not bother me. It amused me because the trunks I had cut off were 8 or 9 feet and only one had been cut in the last two days. I had made a decision in the back of my mind when paying the last legal bill that would end my association with the legal profession. It would be easy to comply with the request and I thought of ringing back on the Monday morning. However, the bullying implied in this missive made me get it photocopied and put it in the post for the solicitor to do it. When my solicitor arrived at his office on Monday he was taken seriously and dangerously ill with a hernia and at great disruption to the whole building was taken by stretcher to ambulance and hospital. The next day, blissfully unaware of events I was outside and watched a woman and very heavy man emerge from a parked car up the croft, after attempting to park nearer the house. They made their way down to me and picked their way over the unconstructed driveway. After identifying herself and her minder and satisfying herself that I was the person she had come to see she said,
I represent Mr Stanton your neighbour and I am serving you a writ to appear in the County Court on Friday 19th July and also give you a copy of a temporary injunction to prevent you from touching my clients trees. I am warning you that should you do so you would render yourself guilty of contempt of court and liable to instant arrest. Maureen was terrified and entirely unprepared as she had not a clue about the removal of his trunks nor noticed the hunk of timber sticking out of the rubble in the skip. She thought the visit was to do with Terry Stantons arrest. The woman went on,
I am prepared to answer any questions you may have. She got up from her chair and walked to the French window and looked at the hedge, and in confusion because it looked very normal and inconspicuous, then said,
Where are these trees?
My anger and resentment was contained within fear that the Stantons, so full of hate were now ready to seek revenge for the death of their matriarch. Our visitor was an articled clerk in a prestigious firm of expensive, inner city firm of solicitors very close to the long-standing, formidable county court building. I could well understand that going forth on a mission such as this she might be expected to meet violence and the protection of a heavy would be a wise precaution. Our skill and hospitality enabled us to make friends and they accepted cups of tea. The lady was just completing her job of work having been in court with Counsel and witnessed the signing of the order by the Judge and he had dated it that morning, so had to be accurate. The package she had brought with was substantial and would have taken hours to assemble. The careful, skilled preparation of documents had been started two years before - even if brought up to date in the last few days. Any undertaking I might have given would not have stopped the deluge. Stanton had been into town to sware an affidavit before solicitors for oaths of a different firm occupying the same building. This was dated that morning 2nd July and by it legal nature that had to be accurate. Then the party must have walked a few yards meeting the barrister outside his chambers to go before the judge. The hearing was ex-parte that is my rights to be present had been completely ignored and that could not happen now. Stanton was the plaintiff and with these terms and I had learnt my first bit of law. His affidavit had three exhibits with it one of which was a copy of the only accurate information in the whole bundle i.e. the letter before action that had been sent to me three days before. This would be the thing satisfying the judge about my rights being respected. The affidavit explained
Stanton was an 83-year-old retired engineer. I had reduced the height of his tree screen by 15 feet and they were now only 10 feet high. The police would not prosecute me and a solicitor he had consulted had lost all the papers. His son, Terry Stanton would be pleading not guilty to assaulting me. I was at home when the postman delivered because he had seen me in my garden on Saturday and must have received the letter. His new solicitors had made enquiries and the cost of completely replacing trees would be £30,000.
Attached as an exhibit was a two- year old letter from a tree surgeon that said Stanton had told him I had reduced the trees by 9 feet and my cutting back overlapping branches to the boundary had made the trees lop-sided, and render them susceptible to pests and disease. I would have trespassed 4 feet over the boundary. His schedule of photographs showed the notorious 18 feet tower but labelled as an inspection platform, a five foot hunk of tree held upright by Stanton that had fallen back into the garden, a horrible two year old view of my side of the 18 feet hedge, and horrendous close ups of the tops of incisions taken by a horizontal camera from the tower (These were pruned out the following year when taken down to 14 feet but now had fresh new green growth). There were some distance shots taken from the dorma window to demonstrate that our house was now visible by the reduction of tree height destroying complete screening. Two amusing photos showed the solicitor pointing with a white cane to the spot new top of a trunk. The interest was that it was the guy like Abraham Lincoln. Everything was dated this same morning.
There was a paper titled Particulars of Claim.
Item (a) said up to Sept 1989 I had reduced the height by 10 feet.
(In fact it was 5 feet over the summer months of that year)
Item (b) around Sept 1990 reduction was 5 feet.
It was 4 feet
Item (c) in the last week by 4 feet
It was nil. But I had been taking out the trunks without reducing the height. Counsel did not study the letter prior to action from his own instructing solicitor to me.
Item (d) many times cut back beyond the boundary
In strict terms correct.
Our visitors left on friendly terms but in no doubt of the shock and confusion they had wrought upon us. The detail in the wadge of paperwork was meaningless, as neither of us had experienced a summons. Obviously we needed help and presuming our solicitor had responded to the letter before action without success, and knowing nothing about his emergency operation I set off to the printers and secured several sets of photo copies then went on my way taking the originals to the solicitors office and left them at the reception desk. The presumption that before an appointment was made there had to be adequate time for perusal in conjunction with my file and my own councils opinion of two years ago. I remind you it stated the reduction in the height of trees is a trespass to which there is no defence. My very poorly solicitor stoically rang me from hospital on the Thursday evening and apologised for his inability to respond to the letter before action and my case was in the hands of his colleague who would handle my case from thereon.
The colleague visited us next day, and taking a look from the window commented,
I cant see what the fuss is all about. We went outside and with a sweep of his hand lightly swept aside the new green foliage covering up a recess at the bottom of which was the freshly cut incision of a recently removed trunk a couple of inches over the Stanton side and extending a foot or so. He exclaimed,
Oh my God.
Referring to the summons package I said,
If I had cut off as much as they say I have there would be nothing left. He answered,
That is inconsequential; there is evidence here that cannot be denied in court. He took photographs of a hedge that looked in splendid condition compared to the appearance at the beginning of the year. Before leaving he said,
I want you to write day everything from the moment you came into the house, the bonfires, assaults, dates, facts, figures and everything else that might be relevant within the next week or so. As you know the Judge has signed to say the case is fit for Counsel. If he thought it frivolous he would want to protect you from unnecessary expense and of course Mr Stanton has signed to affirm he has the necessary resource to pay your expenses should his claim fail. I need to know if you will have your previous Counsel the advantage of that is that he has previous knowledge of the case and is a specialist land lawyer.
I agreed but was too ignorant about the relationship between solicitors and barristers, holding them in awe as I admired the knowledge and professionalism of all experts.
But life for me had changed, I could no longer enjoy my garden, which Maureen took over, worked hard, and also cared for and tended me. There was our first bit of real sunshine and I was gratified she had developed a tan. I slogged away at the word processor, examined letters and records and produced thousands of words printed out on a long roll. Ian came round and my speel was read and my weakness with the written word was apparent. I knew what was in my mind but it was badly conveyed to the written word. Trawling the past evoked bitter resentments and we chewed over this without making progress and this made me feel wretched. We left it alone after Ians comment,
You have suddenly aged. I slept badly and wished Stanton would die. Next day an old neighbour, a very devout Christian and regular churchgoer told us she was praying on our behalf that he would die and, for some reason it made me feel better. Instead of sleeplessness I got up and worked and managed to pull myself together, finish and post it. A few days later we responded to a request to see the solicitor. It had taken him sixteen hours of work to produce an affidavit from my wordy efforts for me to sign. Most of my stuff was quite irrelevant, complete honesty was the only policy and virtually we were throwing ourselves at the mercy of the court and our opponents in order to secure the best settlement possible. He had produced a brilliant piece of work that went like this -
Maureen and I have complied with the spirit and objects of the Bournville Village Trust to preserve the standards and appearance of the estate. The cuppressus were attractive when small and we would carry our wastewater to keep the alive in the drought years. They soon exceeded the recommended height of 6 feet 6 under the BVT Management Scheme and at 35 feet were susceptible to snow damage and branch detachment in gale. I admitted to taking branches back to the boundary, the assaults on me, the tower, being pelted with stones and the threat of a firearm, and the recent removal of the trunks. My maintenance work was in accordance with good gardening practice and estate guidelines and even that would have been unnecessary if the Plaintiff had arranged to do it from my side. I objected to the present terms of the injunction because I did not wish to see the screen return to the 35 feet described by the Trust Officer as the Berlin Wall. There were a couple of exhibits attached a letter from Maureen to Freda Stanton, from me to the Trust with their replies indicating they had done all they could to persuade the Stantons. All attempts to resolve things reasonably had been rejected
After reading it out loud to us and he corrected his minor mistakes by hand as office technology had not at that time, extended to advanced word processors and speedy laser printers. He said,
I will escort you out and we will call in at a colleague of mine for him to take your oath to your affidavit, and then Ill be off to the court house, depose the papers, and to take our instruction to Counsel in chambers. I was too ignorant and stricken with fear to insist that this demi-god to meet us, visit the site and make sure he knew exactly what he was talking about when taking a months pension off me for representing me in court.
Late on Thursday afternoon I had a call from the solicitor to ask if we had our title deeds at home and could we be sure to bring them with to court in the morning, make sure we arrived with plenty of time to spare and we were formally dressed.
Friday the 22nd of July was a fine day and we walked from a car park some ten minutes walk away and approached a corner. Two men one of boyish, fresh-faced fair appearance and the other older, moustached and dark were happily chatting and occasionally lapsing into laughter. We climbed the step and pushed back the swinging doors, gained eye contact with the uniformed official and stepped into gloom, scarcely alleviated by supplementary artificial lighting even though bright sunlight streamed through high up, heavily leaded windows. The very old, oak-panelled, imposing reception area was crowded with groups conversing in subdued tones with a fair sprinkling of white wigs bobbing up and down. The solicitor spotted us and remarked that although the barrister had not yet arrived there was plenty of time and our hearing was more than likely to be heard later than earlier. He said,
Ill go and find a suitable place where we can talk, returning some minutes later he went on,
All the consulting rooms are full and there are no spare corners, we are as better off here than anywhere, he raised an arm and his hand made a beckoning wave, then added,
Counsel has arrived and is coming over.
This was the dark moustached man we had seen chatting and the appropriate introductions were made. Apprehension had been growing for days and had now reached terror. When asked for the deeds I tried to spring back the catches on my brief case, they were stiff but suddenly yielded, my trembling hands failed to grasp the case and the contents spilled on the floor. Others stepped aside as Ian and Maureen recovered the papers and straightened them into a bundle. The barrister selected what I eventually became to know was the conveyance, ran his eye down quickly, flipped over a page, returned the document and in a self satisfied tone, remarked,
As I anticipated you have no right to light. It caused irritation as the Trust had told us that ten years ago but we had never read the deeds. They had been in the house since recovering them from the bank upon redeeming the mortgage. It was not the type of thing one likes to read such things are best left to professionals. The change in my life was to become even more radical and I would read until I did understand. (It really wasnt all that difficult when one was motivated) I was a little relieved that that was the entire barrister wanted to know but why on earth did he not have all the relevant papers to study when we employed him more than two years ago? In fact why did not the solicitor study them? They were lawyers and cleverer than we; spent longer at school - then on to years at the best universities and law school. We recompensed them with loads of money because they could understand and interpret legalese. The five of us stood in a distinct group and created an interest in bystanders temporarily not in conference. Instinctively we drew together almost in a huddle and subdued the volume of our speech. There was a glimpse of enlightenment for I had been sensing curry and garlic and was amused that cooking was going on in the premises. Then the revelation came that the odour emanated from the breath of our barrister and it was strong. The bewigged gentleman postured,
The issue is simple, if this claim goes to trial you will lose and you will lose badly, of course you need not take my advice, but I did warn you there is no defence We had not envisaged anything resembling a trial as this was the first time it was mentioned and as my trembling increased and with my heart thumping I desperately suppressed my fear in case it was conveyed to Maureen and Ian. They had enough to do looking after they let alone taking on responsibility for me. So our Counsel went on,
I am off to see the opposition and get the best possible terms for us. Mum, dad and elder son had a brief cuddle, held hands and stood in silence before the solicitor. In a very short space of time the barrister was back and started off,
We are very lucky, I have good news for you, and they are willing to settle on very generous terms. You have to accept the hedge at only twenty-three feet high, pay them £6,000 in compensation and their legal costs of course and there will be a permanent injunction preventing you from touching the trees again. I strongly suggest that we complete the necessary paper work and put all this behind us for good. I was so angry that I swore suggesting that he go back and tell them where they could put it. Obscenities formulated in my mind and put me under further stress in controlling their expression. Ian said,
Have you read the Bournville Trust Management Scheme and the answer came,
Of course I have but it is entirely inappropriate to these circumstances. Maureen shouted,
So we have got to put up with that nasty old mans Berlin Wall for ever, and got the answer,
Mrs Jones, Mrs Jones, I am so sorry there is nothing that can be done, it is the law but I will go back and see if I can get the height of the hedge down. We stood in an uneasy silence again and Counsel was away longer this time and came back with some enthusiasm,
We were wise to hold out, they have given way a lot, first they will accept a hedge of eighteen feet but there must still be an injunction but I did not let him finish and swore again,
And who on earth going to make them keep to that without threatening to go to court every three years?
Hear me out, hear me out they will forgo the £6000 compensation if withdraw your charges against Terry Stanton . Remembering a bit of law most likely learnt from television I insisted,
The police have made the charges, now tell me what is the law regarding the influence of a witness the answer came,
Go on he didnt really hurt you did he, you could put a word in couldnt you. An impression was beginning to seep into my mind that my lawyers were not really on my side because I saw the look on the solicitors face and I exploded,
Both of you must answer my question. The Counsellor answered first, Influencing a witness is a very serious matter indeed. The solicitor answered,
I concur with that but I am going to shut up. The message came that our case was about to begin. On the way Council said you will have to give an undertaking- that is the only way to avoid an injunction. I was led past the Stantons and their solicitor when a compartment labelled Defendant was pointed to and I took my place standing in what was the dock. I was a criminal. Then I glanced at Maureen and Ian taking their seats with pity and despair in their eyes when I was suddenly distracted by the fair, pink faced gentleman we had seen when we entered the building but this time wearing the whitest, cleanest wig I had seen that morning. He was handing my counsel a paper that was scanned and brought to me to read. It is a standard printed paper with a hand written promise that I would not enter the plaintiffs land, cut or damage the Leylandii or any other tree growing under or over his land until the trial or further order. In heavy type it said I would go to prison if I broke my promise. The Plaintiff, through his Counsel affirmed he had the necessary assets and undertook to pay me damages if I suffered as a result of the order; costs were reserved and that the matter adjourned generally. When the Judge came in everyone stood. After introductory statements and identification my opposing Counsel handed the Judge a copy of the paper who the asked if I had read it, then to sign it in front of him, whereupon he issued the prison warning if to the slightest degree I broke the order and was brought before him. He then adjourned the case and as we made our way into cleared corridors one of number of vacant, tiny conference rooms was found and I was able to sit for the first time for a couple of hours. Counsel explained that coming to a settlement was the only possible option and that process could go on between solicitors. Ian again referred to the Bournville Trust Management Scheme but both lawyers shook their heads.
Ian and Stanton had both acquired the freehold of their properties and the BVT Management Scheme lays down that freeholders have the same obligations as when they were leaseholders and keep their hedges properly trimmed and in good condition and what was deemed a party wall, fence or hedge should continue to be so. They must not have any erection or structure detrimental to the appearance or amenities of the estate nor could they permit or suffer to be done anything, which may become a nuisance annoyance.
I remind my reader what the barrister had told me in his note of two years ago. The Trust could get rid of or force Stanton to remove the tower but, we would be unsuccessful if we took BVT to court to make it act on our behalf.
When returned home we were raw, angry and bitter particularly when I recalled the two chummy chatterers outside the court and faced the reality of an elaborate sub-conscious, professional fix. It was arrogantly assumed that everyone plays by the rules and that therefore I would. Exactly twenty years before when we moved into our house, I observed, as a student of human behaviour, a caste system operated in this village and I had challenged it by making a fuss every time there was a nasty bonfire, usually caused by neighbours from a higher caste. The perpetrators assumed they would not smell but, if anyone did detect the offensive fumes they would pretend they didnt. Maureen has always been a conformist and the gender thing, she needs to be loved by all and was always uneasy by my complete lack of deference to neighbours. She would always assume her rightful place in the pecking order squirm yes. The mighty Stanton and Miss Thomson (the neighbour on the south side) hedges and fires were imposed upon us and silently but guiltily acquiesced by the village establishment - attacking what a decent citizen had planted or did in his own land was not done by decent humble folk the trouble was I was not decent a fact shouted out to the housetops by the hedge owners.
Hee, hee, the sanctimonious, nasty, self proclaimed, tiny elite would mutter in their little conclave around the village post office.
Nothing he can do hes properly boxed in.
There were and always will be in-groups and if you dont conform youre slung out. There is no letter or formal statement of expulsion the black sheep suddenly finds herself or himself isolated. And of course there were out-groups, consisting of the human detritus of the rejected. I followed this with interest because this phenomenon was passed on to families and our grandsons and their school pals experienced it.
Teachers who are hard disciplinarians have no truck with this sort of rubbish concentrating as they do on perfect order. However, the softer hearted ones, keen students of human behaviour will observe little cliques, particularly with girls, often clever, nice attractive ones cause low level indiscipline with their chatter. It can be unbearably loud but you cant see their lips moving. This is very difficult to control because no one individual does anything wrong to suffer reprimand that the teacher could justly uphold definitely not a punishment that would deter the others.
In village communities castes, cliques or sub-groups are based on a perception of class. They can form on the primary school run and families last up to eight or nine years as sets of parents of consecutive ages of pupils follow one another on. Dads meet a school football. Both mums and dads meet at parents meetings. Then there are clubs that have strict rules and churches rules are stricter still. There are no pubs on BVT land. Each household assumes its own level and perceived prestige based on imagined class. However most will not know more than one of their neighbours and generally wish to keep themselves to themselves. Speech matters a lot. Maureen speaks very well and would be acceptable on her own but she was a state school head teacher so was not at the top of the educational tree. Dress is important as is the appearance of house, garden and age of car.
The Stantons considered the police of lower caste and intelligence proved now because they had recruited their hated neighbours son of that same caste.
How dare they pick up my son and put him into a cell, the old man thought. No, the police are of this thuggish breed and cannot be relied upon for justice for the likes of us, so best pay for the civil courts, and in doing so we will not only make them pay, in fact we will ruin them. Make them pay for decent barristers who are our type of decent person and we will punish them in no uncertain way. This is decent justice.
I recalled the look of triumph on the Stanton faces expressing gratification it said,
At last we can put the squeeze on you and there is nothing you can do about it because if you try youll go to jail go on try it we would love to see you there
We recalled that in the gloomy years of hedge oppression we pledged together that whatever the terms of its removal, we would suffer together the consequences of the means of getting rid of it whatever they may be. It was a pity that Stanton had discovered that those bare stumps in the centre had been cut out. When I cut the branches back to the boundary four years ago it had been hideous sight for a couple of years, as the photographs show and everyone knew and talked about it. But they were covered up now and the appearance was acceptable, only time was needed for fresh green growth to fill in some depressions and naturalise the tops. There would be plenty of time now, as I would go to jail if I even snipped a twig even if it was growing in my garden. It was dictatorship, irksome and my rights were denied even though I had paid out a months pension to my lawyers to have them protected. This had been the second hearing, I had not been at the first, before a Judge with damning photographic and expert evidence that I had trespassed, forced my way into Stanton land and vandalised his property. My guileful legal opponents had only given me the obligatory black and white photocopies of August 1989 of the originals taken from the top of the notorious tower and, it was only years later did I see the lurid colour and savagely, one foot, open, forest-tree trunk gashes picture taken from above with a horizontally held camera. That judge would know that I had been messing about a bit but it would not be apparent that a year after I had removed another section, all the subject of these lurid photos. My arboriculture skill was not apparent. True my harsh pruning was done without permission; on property that I could not dispute was not mine. True the learned judge had my affidavit in which I had admitted everything, under provocation from a very unreasonable neighbour yes; my exhibits were very tangible evidence of that. Then there was the physical violence directed against me but my barrister said that would be excused on the grounds of reasonable protection of property. Then I had willingly signed an undertaking, under duress of course, that an injunction would be imposed if I did not. Somehow, I would have preferred that instead of being led by the nose as a lamb to slaughter and made to agree. In desperation I phoned the solicitor and shouted at him,
Why did you not fight? to which he mildly replied,
Because, if we had fought, youd have lost. Years later I read his brief to the barrister, instructing him to get me off the hook at the least possible cost. He thought I was a criminal and guilty as hell and convinced counsel of that. They hadnt a clue.
This mornings activity had cost us six or seven hundred quid and thrown us further into the mixer with what further costs, God only knows.
When really in the blues, try water, the basis of all life. Run some from the tap, it will have some minute life but, leave in the open and within minutes it will team with millions of diverse creatures. Introduce larger ones and they will feed. The peculiar attributes of water when it freezes is responsible for the complexity of evolution. Another time, when I should have been once in my lowest ever, a very pious vicar was almost crying at the perpetual rain, perhaps it was undisciplined pupils and he blamed me for not being strict enough - he was a part time fellow member of staff perhaps I didnt ask him if his church roof was leaking but I was rather trying to give some human compassion by explaining the beautiful liquid yes he did hate science teachers. I held out my hand and cradled a little puddle in my palm and holding it before his eyes; I gave him my little spiel about the wonders of water. He said,
You optimists make me sick, and walked away from me thoroughly disgusted.
We decided to treat ourselves. Our garden pool was ten years old a rigid rectangle more suitable to the formalised paths and walls of my reconstructed garden of 1979. Long since had plants spilled over the stark edges, softening them and beautifying the harsh outline. But a month ago in an agitated state I had accidentally, slightly punctured the lining when recklessly using a garden fork to remove debris. A neighbour had re-constructed his front garden with old, flat York stone paving and gravel, surrounded by his rockery. Just the thing for us except, we would have a pool as well as a gravel area and those are about the most interesting thing to have in a garden. We were lucky as the material was scarce and expensive of course, but we knew where to get it, the last from a very scarce ancient source. We removed all the pond life into buckets and containers, baled out the water and threw it over the garden. Now, cant wait to start the digging. We could have a really deep section now the grandchildren were grown. As toddlers that would have been too dangerous although they were never allowed in the garden on their own, ever there was too much glass. So lay out the hosepipe around the edge of the enlarged hole and go on arranging until there was an interesting shape. The extra excavated earth made a slope for a waterfall, and two shallow subsidiary feeding pools were hollowed. The shallower ledges were wide enough to take generous planted baskets the tops to come level with the surface. Remove all stones; continue moulding and shaping the solid clay. It rained, so use it to advantage to get into the hollow and start puddling the clay. That is the term for mixing the water with it and troweling this gunge evenly around the hole. Puddling creates an impervious layer which stops the water from seeping through, a technique used in making canals. Then spreadsheets of newspaper that became damp so it clung. That made an inner lining perfectly smooth and soft with no unevenness to produce stresses in the plastic liner, that I then spread over the hole and started gradually filling with water, the weight of which pushed the liner gently down to fit snugly over the bottom. If any stones worked their way upward there was enough padding to protect the plastic. We waited a week, time enough for any chlorination to evaporate and by then nature had started to colonise with algae and a myriad of water creatures. We tipped the contents of the buckets and bowls taken out of the old pond. The water snails could make a start eating the algae. Now the water was murky. We bought some water plants and baskets that were planted up were placed on the ledges. The water became murkier. The beautiful old York paving was placed around the edge to cover the overlapping black plastic. The activity was highly therapeutic, perhaps of amateurish appearance to the perfectionist but highly satisfying and it occupied me, but the hard work and fresh air and a touch of sun had done wonders to my appearance. The relaxed atmosphere made us feel a lot better. Only three weeks ago Ian and others offered the comment that I had suddenly aged. That worried me and stimulated the fight back in me, it was impossible to know how but if there was no chink in that blanket of doom, one had to be found and prised open.
Within three days of the court hearing on advice from Counsel, my solicitor had approached the Stanton solicitor by letter and phone with a view to an immediate settlement. The highlight was my acceptance, without my approval, of a permanent injunction. I was told,
Keeping me from his trees, was the reason Stanton had gone to court. I was not only very unhappy about that but, I squirmed and was so angry that emphasis was not put on removing the nuisance that had got me in that position in the first place. My highly paid legal advisors were not getting their heads down to solving it; in fact my impression was that they were not on our side. Family talk had withered because there was nothing else to say but I made the big step of declaring that I could not tolerate living here under Stanton oppression. I wrote and spoke to Secretary Thomson at the Trust about my feelings and told him about the court hearing, particularly the offers by the Stanton Counsel to accept a settlement on the three original conditions, one of which was the hedge was kept at twenty-three feet. I had an official written reply that trees of twenty-two feet high in anyones rear garden was entirely unacceptable to the Trustees. There was also the tip off that the Trustees Annual meeting was to take place within days. That meant anything or nothing but I took it that there were stirrings and a lack of comfort that we were left to face a situation alone. George Cadburys vision and pragmatic innovation with the help of his legal draftsmen at the end of Victorias reign had provided a covenant offering a rational solution of a problem arising from shared boundaries.
At the beginning of my book I described how Clive Wilkinson had helped to cut red tape between the Birmingham Municipal Bank, the builder, the Federation of Master Builders and the Trust preventing the signing of the conveyance. As the Trustee of the Estate, nominated by the City, he was now an Honorary Alderman having resigned his political career. He was one of our greatest friends, absolutely loyal and true and could be relied upon one hundred per cent. His forthrightness put many people off but this, plus his ability to cut through to the nub of a problem at speed and, then express the solution in simple terms was his great strength, had he been politically acceptable, which he decidedly was not. He had moved just over the border into Selly Oak some years after we had done the same but the local Party would not tolerate his right wing views. Polite society in the neighbourhood referred to him as the Labour Man ignorant of the fact that there were more signed up members of the Labour Party in this constituency than anywhere else in the UK. Before the SDP was formed in 1981 he was amongst one hundred nationally prominent Local Government Labour people who were asked and signed the Charter of Social Democracy. He would never be forgiven for that, although he refused the next step of joining David Owen, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and John Rogers in forming the Social Democratic Party. He is the best leader that Labour never had, and it is an extraordinary loss to the party that he resigned his leadership of the City Council, as it was a spring- board to reaching cabinet level had he been able to find a parliamentary seat when Labour came to power. He sacked Dr Lynne Jones together with two other brilliant left-wing women chairs of committee one of whom, Theresa Stewart later became leader herself. The audacity of this move was absolutely breathtaking and thoroughly condemned by Maureen and me. We would without doubt regard these women among the finest of our time. But you have to consider this amongst the circumstances of that moment. Labour was irretrievably split and had no hope of gaining power for many a year. The people we served who did not understand factionalism needed us badly and the party let them down and allowed the Tories in for eighteen years. All this and more will be remembered forever and make Clive part of the local party-political dustbin of history but, he was and will always be one of our greatest friends. In seconds he understood our predicament, was immediately on our side and took our cause to the Trustees Annual meeting. The result was a set back, because he reported the exhaustive and legal opinion given by their Counsel was that there was nothing that the Trust could do as they had no legal teeth. As a charity they had to follow that advice although the meeting was a hundred per cent on our side. We had a confirming letter from Secretary Thomson that the Chancery Division of the High Court would not allow them to order Stanton to keep his hedge to a realistic size. In the event that they could, they would. Meanwhile the Guidelines were explicit hedges should be two metres or six foot, six in old money. This was a terrific blow and we decided to go for settlement and the injunction on me and we would sell the property for there would be buyers at a reduced price. The hedge and dispute seriously devalued our property but the new resident would be in a position to decide. It was at a low point in the property market and the term negative equity was familiar. At least there were no massive forest trees now intruding into this narrow part of the garden in fact it was very acceptable but the buyer had reason to be afraid of the old mans ultimate intention of height another three or four years and it would have grown again. Our solicitor renewed his attempts to find out what was going to happen but always got the reply from his opposition solicitor that his client would not reply to him.
The WPC visited us to say that Terry Stanton persisted in his intention to plead not guilty and the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service were convinced that he had a case to answer. She had been struck or kicked whilst making the arrest and though she had declined to bring charges, despite pressure from colleagues, she wanted him done. Please she pleaded, give my assurance that I would be present as a witness in Court on September 13th?
Absolutely was the answer. I enthusiastically endorsed the proposition that justice had a chance to be on my side but rated the possibility that the Stantons would get away with it as the most probable outcome as they had so evilly, succeeded in fixing me in the civil court. Bernard had painfully knocked me about with the police totally ignoring it and, saying he would have to do that three times and twice as hard before they took notice and, moreover would have to present very convincing medical evidence. Terrys scarcely controlled physical aggression had been the cause of a painful mouth ulcer and a few bruises, the doctor had not told me he had been asked, and what about my photographs? The tables were turned on evidence. The Stantons deliberately used their Leylandii and observation tower to punish, dominate and spoil our amenity retaliation for being stopped from lighting their ruthless, persistent, smoky fires. Now they had used contriving, highly paid solicitors, barristers and the use of spurious, out of date evidence of a so-called tree expert to land me in a load of worrying trouble.
No, thought I,
It is past time for a bit of Stanton come-up-pence. The W.P.C told me that my tree contractors had refused to be present in court and therefore my evidence was vital. My reply was subpoena them. Her answer to that was that the assault was part of a quarrel of which they claimed they had no part. Their home/ business were but a couple of hundred yards from the Stanton business and I wrongly wondered if pressure had been brought to bear on them not to attend court. The Crown Prosecution Service claimed that they had enough evidence. The policewoman took from me the letter that Terry had written to Maureen blaming us for his Mothers death. Here was motive and introducing evidence for it was the start of my learning process about the law. It made me think of Freda Stanton with some sadness and asked myself why a line of trees should have blighted her last days. Looking down on her son she would be asking,
Why did you have to interfere with your aggressive behaviour and you had better sort things out with Jones rather than the court. Then she might have added,
But I did rather urge you and your father on and I did threaten Jones.
Bernard would be responding to my solicitor and agreeing to a settlement but I was not having any form of injunction whatsoever without a fight. But Bernard was just not communicating with his solicitor. His solicitor told mine us he was being ignored. I put myself in the position of a father. In no possible way would I risk my son going before the court and would pay any amount and humble myself to any degree let alone get rid of a line of trees to risk a conviction. Terry told his dad,
I didnt hit Jones, his Dad answered,
You are innocent; the court will let you off. You found this very clever firm of solicitors and they have stopped Jones in his tracks once and for all theyll make sure the magistrates know what sort of man he is. Not much of a gamble really, taking the risk is far better that letting Jones get his own way. I finished talking to that man years ago there must never be a deal with that man.
But 13th Sept was not a lucky time of the year for Terry. In 1989 it was his moms funeral, next year he had lost his temper, and this year he was in the defendants dock at Birmingham Magistrates Court and he could have got out of it so easily. I didnt want a humiliating apology from him just a sensible understanding of what his parents horrible hedge did to us.
The ornate, red-stone, Victorian building is imposing, just around the corner from the County Court. Many a deserving villain has been served his just deserts in that place. I had never been in the building before and it is fourteen years and I have not been in since. My memory is of a massive ceiling less, pillared, reception area with light pouring in from the roof. Numbered Courts, a stairway, a modest restaurant, and smaller rooms led off. We had left plenty of time but there was a small group clustered around Terry and the old man. I immediately noticed the articled clerk that had served me the writ but she was without her huge minder. She averted her head and conveyed the message to the others who did not turn but occasionally gave sideways glances. There were others of smart professional appearance and of course Abraham Lincoln the Stanton solicitor, markedly outstanding from the rest of his group. The policeman was there and so was the WPC as I walked up close to say hallo she opened her file and handed me a paper, offering the remark,
This is your statement, you may read it to refresh your memory and then hand it back she went over to a professional looking gent standing by Abe and told him what she had done, and I saw him nod in acquiescence. I read the handwritten script through and was quite startled. The last time I had seen it was when signing it a year ago when the officers had taken the statement. Inevitably having ones remarks written by another is not the same as having written it oneself. It is a matter of the subtleties of expression, the strength of phrase used. It wasnt exactly as my memory had developed over the last year. In essence it was right, the man had barged into my home, put his fist against my jaw and pushed me to the ground and was guilty but the this statement differed in one or two details to my memory, nevertheless I nodded and handed it back to the WPC realising the document was shown to me officially as a routine matter. The transaction was approved by a couple of nods from the opposing party and I was told to go, as the police were not allowed to talk to a witness. The law and court procedures were intruding upon my conscience. It was ages before our case was to be heard and the court was only just starting with a couple of cases to go. We went for a cup of tea and checked regularly on the movement of parties. We had a moment to relax and my tenseness had gone after all I wasnt the defendant, nor the prosecutor- just one of the witnesses. I met the policeman whilst peeing in the gents with the words,
Whats going to happen to him?
Oh, hell get away with it, they all do, was the answer, followed by a cynical diatribe interlaced by expletives, indicating a hatred of all defendants and their clever dick lawyers who were responsible for the abuse of the court system, the denigration of society in general and, the failure of decent folk to live their lives in peace. It was ages before we spotted the Stanton camp going into the courtroom and the lady police officer told me they were going through the preliminaries. I was eventually led into the large, musty, ornate room with carvings, alcoves, bays, benches, platforms, rails, nooks and crannies. Maureen and Ian followed but I was then directed to the witness box which was raised. There was a young to middle aged man, seated the highest up the tiered structure of the court room, the be-spectacled presiding officer. He was the Stipendiary Magistrate or so they told me afterwards much to my surprise, because I was expecting four or five elderly aldermen of either gender, suitably fitting the décor of the place. I was asked to take a seat in the witness box five yards to his right and a yard in front. I looked five yards in front and a yard to the right to see Terry Stanton in the dock and was struck by the pallor and transparency of his skin reminding me of his mothers. He was not the triumphal, sneering fellow I caught sight of from my County Court defendants dock nor the blazing, testosterone / adrenaline, fired fist wielder of a year ago. It depressed me, as I felt the guilty person myself a couple of months ago and experienced the palpitations but, these immediately disappeared when presented with a bible, repeated the oath and then asked for my name and occupation. My clear and confident answer was,
Retired, pastoral head of house, comprehensive school-teacher, the memory of a much-loved time helped me, and it was necessary to define what sort of teacher I was. Terrys sister-in-law was a local teacher and her local teacher colleagues did not know me because I had been retired nine years and never had been a local teacher. It was part of the Stanton character assassination that I was never a proper teacher, casually moving about from school to school. This was the mildest of the slander as I was also a murderer, rapist, and burglar and subject to the vague innuendo that women in the neighbourhood were not safe. I had never met the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) solicitor but presumed he was the prosecutor from what I had seen in films. He asked me to describe the circumstances of the morning in question and as I described the tree contractors trimming the hedge the one of the professional looking gents I had seen in the Stanton group was by the dock and he expostulated in anger. Disappointedly I presumed he was for the defence.
But where was good old Abe, I thought, looking round the court because I really missed him. Here was another expensive whiz kid defending solicitor in place of the fresh face-prosecuting barrister in the civil court.
Mr Jones, he expostulated, red faced and angry, desperately pleading to the bench, not me,
Mr Jones you say trimming - they took four feet off the top four feet. He ended in a shriek. The magistrate intervened sharply, disappointed in his fellow professional and gasped reprovingly,
Mr Soandso (I cannot remember his name).
But, but he stammered, they had chain saws. (The workmen did not use them) The magisterial reproof was even sharper and demanding but it did exact the appropriate apology, awaited by the court, which I enjoyed.
Then the prosecutor resumed,
What did the defendant say I paused for a long time, unsure of the correct response but decided on that of my police statement of a year ago, which I had given to police in my original statement, under close probing questioning. I answered,
You killed my Mother and Im going to kill you. My memory told me he said this at the end of the fracas not at the beginning but the refresher look at the statement told me I had said otherwise. I briefly described and acted, the punch/push on the right-hand side of my jaw, exactly as I did to the police, doctor family and others and was misunderstood, as did everyone in the court now. My efforts as a verbal communicator in intimate human concerns or my expression of personal emotion have sometimes been poor and at the best very variable. I was always admiring of pupils, particularly girls who were so good at this sort of thing in my counselling sessions. Perhaps I was a good councillor? Most certainly I was tutored by excellently qualified teachers. Later, I was a media star, but only after initial practice and a good mentor. My written communication skills at or since early schooling have been decidedly below average. But here in the witness box, in this examination I experienced a rapport with the prosecuting lawyer whom I had never seen before or since and together we produced a convincing act, riddled with minor inaccuracies that did not affect the defendants guilt. The prosecutor conveyed a message to me by a third party afterwards that I was the most natural witness he had experienced in his career. The defence solicitor, another vunderkint, this time for the criminal court and the best money could buy, was angry and seething to denigrate and destroy my credibility and me. He had already thwarted when his over enthusiasm dented his credibility. He had plenty of ammunition if only he had examined it properly and aimed his barbs accurately after his first question; trouble was he was still too eager to get me,
Mr Jones, do you allege my client hit you with his right or left hand? I answered, Right, he seemed winded. According to my mime of receiving a blow on the right hand side it would have come naturally from a left handed person. The doctors evidence quite wrongly my injury was on the left hand side and it fitted in with a right-handed person. But the bruise was on the right hand side. There was a conflict and he should have challenged the doctors evidence against mine. His performance was poor and in desperation he was about to get nasty,
Mr Jones, you know that everyone knows your habit of going close to people and pushing your head close up to their faces. His client must have told him this and I answered,
No one has ever told me that before. He became more and more objectionable as he became exasperated. He repeated every bit of course innuendo that had obviously been offered by his client and with my patient forbearing replies his case completely disintegrated as he got more frustrated. I had never seen the doctors written evidence and he had not been summoned to court but I am the person most likely to know how it came about right hand to right jaw. Looking back, the magistrate had already made a clear view about the guilt of the accused. I was completely calm on leaving the box and made my way to Maureen who was sitting at the back of the room. I glanced to the side and saw another Stanton. This was brother Barrie who had been waiting with the group outside. He was not recognisable amongst the others but now sitting by himself the family likeness was recalled. The old man was not there; maybe Abe Lincoln had taken him off to get an answer from him what he was going to do with me. The policeman was called and he made a devastating indictment about the rather bizarre physical reluctance and avoidance of the accused to answer questions for months and, finally resisting morning arrest as he was coming out of his house to go to work. He was a practised police witness. He had years of experience at taking his time and remaining unflustered at cynical questions and this bore fruit at this particular encounter. The courtroom acoustics for the public were so bad and the voices so quiet I only heard half of it and Maureen scarcely any at all. The defence solicitor had not learnt from his experience with me and made no headway with the hardened officers experienced, matter of fact stonewalling with a whiz kid lawyer like this one. The previously expressed cynicism of the man that whatever compelling evidence was produced, the guilty would still get acquitted, produced an irritating façade that had to be broken if his client was to get off. Now, I thought what the devil could the Stanton, super-team produce, after this? They had something devastating in mind; otherwise the old man would have come to a settlement as any father would to save his son. The CPS man had finished his witnesses then produced the outstanding statement that he would not call the WPC. I was looking forward to her testimony because Terry had actually given her a hit, a blow or a kick and I wanted to know exactly what had happened and hoped it would seal the fate of the accused, but her male colleague had covered much of this, if only we could have heard properly.
The whiz kid called his first witness and what a surprise, I hadnt noticed her in court but she gave her name and took the oath as Mrs Green, or so I was told afterwards because she was so quiet we could not hear a thing. Then it dawned upon me it was the lady in the driving seat of the car outside the house, a year ago, the one to whom I had pleaded,
For Gods sake get that man to a mental hospital, he is absolutely mad.
I cannot relate what she was saying to the defence solicitor but distinctly got an impression it wasnt very kind to me. The CPS man was positioned directly in front of us in an acoustically more advantageous position and could be heard quickly establishing that she did not leave her car, was too far away and in any case her view was obstructed from witnessing anything relevant to the charges against the accused.
Then the big moment had arrived; Stanton Junior took the oath, declining the bible, affirming as an alternative. Quakers do that, thus establishing some respectability to the practice, but this fellow was no Quaker, but the Stipend did not know that. The defendant did quite well, his articulation was superb and his diction clear. He put the opposite point of view to me. Well, he would, wouldnt he? He actually raised his hands to demonstrate how he stopped me pushing my head into his face. I thought the magistrate opened and clenched his hands and sighed but, I was probably mistaken. Really, why did he not plead guilty? Why pay such a highly geared legal team. Why had not his old man settled a deal of peace to live harmony together? We could have all done with that but particularly so could PTS. It was typical of the old man that he refused peace out of stubbornness. Surely most fathers would have done this. Did his son stop him? Or did his legal team assure him he would get off? The firm consistently handled the dispute for years whilst I hired, fired and did it myself. They made appalling mistakes and eventually PTS fired them. The presiding officer was ready to conclude the proceeding but the CPS was not having any of it. He wanted audio play back facilities installed. The magistrate resisted but reluctantly agreed and then adjourned for lunch after expressing his displeasure of having to listen to a tape. The intense demand by the prosecution persuaded him. The reason was of course that he was ready to announce a guilty verdict without listening to the prosecution cross-examination.
The proceedings and tension of the last two months brought mum, dad and first born close together as we enjoyed a light, refreshing, relaxing lunch together. We had been on a rich, learning curve because the potent experiences with courts and law were unfamiliar to our family. Having got the current spate out of the way none of us would want to come back to this sort of thing for the rest of our lives. Luckily the press had not found out; disgrace by association and contamination would be embarrassing and cause further stress. Ian and Maureen both thought I had done very well and congratulated me in holding up to the questioning. At the back of my mind was guilt I was not allowed to cut those trees and the lawyers, the courts, Judges and even this magistrate, particularly this magistrate would collude and punish me. I wished we could have made a settlement, so much. Ian thought Stanton was done for and the Beak had made up his mind within minutes of the start. Same thought as mine except I thought he was not was not on my side. We strolled back to the courthouse and I shook my head, thinking,
Perish these negative vibes. Then I reasoned with myself,
They are the remains of childhood guilt.
Stanton jnr. was already in the dock as we took our places in the back of the courtroom.
My God went my raging thoughts, he is the epitomy of confidence he knows he will get off. But the cross examination put me nearly at ease. I say nearly as it was too dreadful to behold and caused embarrassment to everyone.
You told us that Mr Jones sat down on that pile of hedge debris for a rest, what sort of stuff is that?
Logs, was the answer.
Where did Mr Jones get those bruises from?
Carrying the branches came an unsteady reply and by now Stantons confidence was draining fast and that occasional grey, transparent pallor of his became obvious. You wrote to Mrs Jones? He passed the letter across and paused for an affirmation that was delayed because it was so unexpected.
When did you get this bee in your bonnet that Mr Jones murdered your mother? The answers did not come and then the final blow was delivered when the audiotape of the police interview was put on. The Stipend resisted but the prosecutor insisted. The equipment did not work and when the volume was put up to an acceptable level it crackled and was distorted. The problem was sorted out but the final volume level was so low we could not hear the words. However, the magistrate who showed exasperation, the rattled defence solicitor and his white faced trembling client obviously could. We would have loved to hear that tape and when the questioning resumed the gist was that the accused evidence was entirely different to that he had given in court. I had sympathy with that, without the quite legal or procedural glance at my statement of a year ago my evidence would have differed enough for a challenge. The expensive legal team led by a wiz kid lawyer had not prepared their client. They had a copy of the tape and it had been played to their client very recently. Stanton would have to have verified and signed that it was authentic. Why was not the defence questioning in line with the interview? The credibility of the defendant was absolutely destroyed. The summing up was so brief and in a milli-second of its conclusion the Stipendiary Magistrate looked at Stanton and gasped out with relief the verdict he would and could have delivered hours ago,
I find you guilty and order you to pay £150 in compensation and £200 in costs, is that acceptable to you? There was a two-second interchange with solicitor and client and the shaken Stanton nodded. If he hadnt agreed there would have to be a custodial sentence. Making our way out, we filed past his brother Barrie with a glint of recognition although we had never met before. Ian shook his head from side to side,
There was no need for him to have gone through any of that followed by the same gesture,
No need for any of it at all. What was meant or perceived by us is a matter for conjecture.
Bernard had returned and was angrily discussing with the re-assembled legal team, Travesty of justice, travesty of justice. The psychology of that is - if you overheard you were meant to overhear. It had taken exactly a year for the assault to come to court and Terry did try to justify his assault on me when he was unhinged at the anniversary of his mothers funeral. So for the third time it was not his lucky time of the year.
Terry Stanton never accepted he was guilty and once offered me a thousand pounds if I would make a public statement to that effect. He asserts that I committed perjury. Four years later we were on the Esther Rantzen programme together when he was aggressively arguing with Esther about wanting a re-start start of the recorded show because it was not going the way he had agreed with the producer. He and his father had been offered places with me on the stage and they had refused and accepted two centre seats in the front row of the audience. I dramatically intervened with.
He hit me. This was sheer show biz. The Stantons threatened an injunction to stop the broadcast but it went out in full. Five years after that the BBC "Neighbours at War" documentary screened Stanton still denying that he hit me, and both sides of the issue were put to the viewers. Terry should have left it alone because it only publicised the criminal record he had acquired. The tree contractors refused to go on the programme and of course whatever their testimony, it would have been conclusive to the audience. In court the solicitor wiz kid asked the CPS why the workmen had not been subpoenaed but very noticeably did not press the matter. The tree men would hardly be sympathetic after being pressure hosed and stoned and would not have kept quiet about the existence of a firearm. I could not give that in my evidence because it was hearsay. The quality of the defence was so very poor and that had a profound effect upon me in the litigious circumstances of the next few years. But really it was the quality of the initial advice that is at fault in not advising their client to plead guilty or more essentially using the momentum of the civil court proceeding to come to a settlement. That was an ethically sound idea. Ethically sound ideas do not pay. There is a little pot of gold in the considerable resources of his wealthy client latching on to the Joness small detached and retirement savings and the progress of the civil action seemed to be going so well. The poor City Centre solicitor has to earn a living somehow - what better way than relieve a sixty-four year old couple of their home? You see the welfare state was set up as a backstop to re-house them so no compassion here. This mornings foray into the neighbour quarrel was a nice little payer better than last months dip into the county court the barrister had three quarters of that. Never mind the poor performance every one has their bad day no need to bother if you win or lose for a lawyer every day is a good day and giving them a good look as we headed for home the defence team were far happier than their clients.
And oh boy, were the police pleased? The man said,
Most unusual, they usually get away with
it. But the woman gave us both a hug.