The Times September 2010 - 1

The Times September 2010 - 2

Chris Mullin Daily Mail Article

Boris Johnson interview 1998

The Jones Family



Contacts & Links

Hedgeman - The Book

The Berlin Wall

Into the Roaring Nineties

1991 Stanton Turns Really Nasty

Annus Horribilis

The End Of The Annus But Not The Horribilis

The Judgement

The Hand Of Peace


The Big One

No Carte Blanche

Come On Stanton Pay Up

April Fool

Niniteen Ninety Seven

A Little Help From The Lord







My Preliminary Trial took only one, mid-November day, in 1992 when Recorder Wolton, a specialist, land law, part time judge had to decide firstly, what was the precise boundary and secondly if I had the right to reduce the height of the trees and associated hedgerow. But, it was the full time, determined judge; Alan Taylor who had considered the original action so complex, he ordered a preliminary trial as the best method of resolving it by boiling it down to these two issues. Had he conducted the trial himself, he might have been able to influence the booking clerk to follow-on next day or at the least before Christmas 1992. However, Recorder Wolton did ask us if we wanted judgement on trial day. We were too inexperienced to know what was for the best or even that we could ask him for a few minutes discussion and deliberation time. I would have gone for a decision on trial-day, but in the event of our diffidence, the Stanton legal team made the decision in any case, and then regretted. In the event we didn't get it, and didn't regret it.

When starting the action the prestigious, inner city firm of solicitors bullied and coerced me. To best represent their client they pushed the case into court but failed to keep up the momentum. Try as hard as they could, the old man Stanton would not budge. He was greedy, thought victory secure, and because he was assured, he did not hurry at their bequest; revelling in cat and mouse power, keeping us waiting within his reach for a year; accruing interest on his claim at my expense, or better still, salivating in anticipation of an extortionate settlement. Thus, good for me, their initial tactical flair suffered from split direction of lawyer and client. The initial progress of their claim faltered when they were badly caught out by my initiative in taking them to court. Now shortly they were to go completely in reverse gear, wrongly thinking it to their advantage to stretch out the time. They developed delay tactics to an art form to ruin us by attrition - after all lawyers got well paid, win or lose until the job was finished. They were caught out by genuinely believing their own expert witness that the trees would die by my actions or more significantly the court would believe him they would. His out of date evidence, illustrated lurid colour photographs taken cleverly from two feet above showing the raw severed stems was the key to their whole case - the question was did I have the right to do so? They should have checked the position on site before entering the action- I had cut away another four feet a year ago. Judge Taylor said he would visit. Recorder Woltan decided the issue irrelevant until we came to damages. It did not need an expert to tell even the most experienced gardener that those trees were never other than in perfect health. Time was all to our advantage in that the hedge was growing robustly.
We were in anguish and little did we know that the bad old year was to have its final bitter, nastiest sting of all. So we had to wait until the New Year to hear the judgment. The prospect of a three-month was sheer agony, as we wanted the whole business over and done with and just live a normal life.
So Recorder Woltan would be free, three months hence, on Monday 15th February, the day after Valentines Day, my mother's birthday. This was to be the big day when the Judgement would be read and I confidently expected the right to reduce the height of the trees (hedge if it was?) to be in my favour, the whole unfortunate aggro ended and my expenses settled.
If in Stanton's favour as I was equally confident, the expert witness reports would be relevant and their authors put on the stand and cross examined.
Reports had to be deposited with the court and exchanged between parties a month before that. Perhaps the court was short of typists and they were not yet computerised. I managed with my 'steam driven' old BBC computer with its near letter quality printer.
The Order of the Court for the preliminary trial was in long hand but not at all legible, copied perhaps by an overseas person, scrupulously neat but, the writer had not been taught clear letter differentiation in daily handwriting lessons assiduously corrected in an English primary school of our generation. (That part of the curriculum went out of fashion long ago - I can remember the time when my knuckles would have been wrapped. if letter strokes went above or below a prescribed line)
Under the circumstances I wrote into the court for clarification, and received an irritable reply, I think from the Judge Lucky for there had also been another error. The scribing clerk had not fully understood the context and import of the Judge's order and was afraid to use a bit of common sense but you cannot really blame him. Mistakes, mistakes I tell you they were about us all the time.

The last thing Recorder Wolton had told me was I did not need my expert's reports if I won but, he needed their reports in case he decided against me. I was taking no risks about doing a really thorough job. We had learnt a lot about evidence and, terrorized by their startling presentation of two-year-old photographs from the top of the scaffold tower I blamed these for thrusting the case into the courts in the first place. These pictures were by now three years old and did not represent the true position - they had not yet been exposed in the Preliminary Trial court because they were not relevant to the preliminary issues. Our evidence had been excellent, convincing and ultimately decisive but John Wetherell's affidavit had a severe shortfall - we had all been learners but our mild errors had to be put right. The absence of compass direction and camera position probably would not be relevant or touched upon again but, it had to be available The Recorder had not properly followed our efforts at verbal clarification before him in court but now he would have his reports from two experts on either side, in his hands for a month before he came back to court - that was the plan which depended on the file reaching him through the split site court administration and they didn't. He carried his misinterpretation with him to the end as it was never relevant.
So I was certain the judgement would be in my favour but what was going to happen then? The outcome had to be uncertain but although on a steep learning curve my complete lack of experience would be a severe handicap if I lost. The law on damages is very complex. I tried to get an expert from my insurance company to advise me without success. I went to the legal evening at the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Solicitor advised me on what books to study and next day I was off to the University library studying and photocopying. I phoned the Birmingham Law Society, outlining my position and asking if they knew one of their members who would take on a person in my unique circumstances. The willingness of the Society was impressive. Different officers and secretaries phoned me back over the next few days and finally I was sent a list of their obligatory minimum, three names. I phoned the first two upon opening the letter, but both solicitors were out of the country and would not be available within the time frame. There was an unwritten, hidden message in that. The third one was Ray Burford of the Walsall firm of Loxton (later to join with Wassall of Walsall) and I was put through to him immediately. He was intrigued and asked me to send him my file to which I responded by immediately driving there and delivering it to his office. By this time I had written up my account of the last court appearance and that was included. Ray was a week or two replying which made no difference to me, as only I could only do the preparation of my evidence for the next Court appearance.
Ian had just bought a portable video camera and borrowed a quality still camera. We started filming with commentary and sound from outside his house, on the opposite side of Weoley Hill to our opponents. Our rear neighbour Stanton's large detached house, a one time doctor's residence and nineteen-thirties surgery, is a couple of hundred yards away from Ian on the opposite side of the road. We took film of the frontage and the offending, litigious Leylandii at its rear obtruding in the gap of the sky line between houses. The road is a park, all is spacious with a double carriageway and wide central reservation lavishly blooming in spring with crocus and daffodils, a breathtaking sight. There was no land starvation when these properties were developed in the early nineteen-twenties. But those Leylandii, responsible for me being prosecuted, hide my tiny home, crammed up behind them, Tillyard Croft was built half a century later when the Council ordered every bit of land be used. We crossed over and turned right into Witherford Way, filming for a hundred yards where Diana Jinks kindly escorted us through her house and into her selectively planted back garden as she had done three months previously, to take close ups of the hedge from the Stanton side. An early morning, large, bright silver, winter sun shone from the East illuminating the Leylandii that twinkled in a semblance of Christmassy beauty, hiding my home. It has been the only time I have liked such an ugly species and strangely at this particular time of having every reason to hate and despise them. The remaining droplets from the heavy dew became twinkling and dancing bauble. The magic deeply moved me. The hedge had grown in the three months since our last pictures and from this vantage point and momentary snapshot in time presented a perfect, picture card, fifteen-foot screen, fit for gracing the front page of an RHS magazine. The scene would disappear within minutes. There were no ugly stumps or bare patches and I thought,
"What possible damage has been caused to them, what a skilled arboralist I am and how my opponents can justify uprooting these healthy trees and replacing them with new ones at my expense?" We conveyed thanks and deep gratitude for it might appear to the Stantons, that Diana was taking sides, but, as she explained she was anxious that the truth emerged in court. Seasonal greetings were also exchanged and we continued our journey, turning right at Tillyard Croft. Ours is the first house and Sigvard our next-door neighbour was waiting and took us into his rear garden. His fence and hedge is continuous with ours as it winds its way up the croft. He had lopped his Beech hedge at about a metre high, with the agreement of his opposite neighbour who, of course, lived next door to Stanton; this enabled a clear view over into the heavily wooded adjoining garden. It was a kind arrangement for us to show the expected, visiting judge that reasonable people wanted a beech hedge as the boundary feature specified in the planning consent, and not allowed to grow into massive forest trees. Recorder Wolton had not deemed it necessary yet to visit; preferring evidence produced by both parties but more likely it was not relevant to the preliminary trial. Judge Alan Taylor said he would have done so. We noted the clear tangential line of view from the Sickards to the Stanton house - in future years be blocked by Golden Leylandii -very slow growing compared with the notorious kind - these were to become an obstruction to his subsequent residents, in ten years time. .We filmed our own garden from the Sicards, returning home to finish the project on our own patch. Three sets of still film were taken for processing three duplicate sets of pictures, a hundred photographs each copied twice. The video was of course immediately ready for taking to Ray Burford.

It was my first appointment to poky offices in the town centre of Walsall and the lesson already learnt it was necessary to park a mile away and walk to avoid the stress of parking. It was necessary to wait but I chatted up the receptionist, Melanie and quickly found my sense of humour sent her into peels of laughter and willingness to tell me a few things of inconsequence, one of which was that Ray was a keen Baggies supporter. Then it was time to find my way up the dark, old timbered staircase wondering if the previous client had parachuted out of the window because no person came down. All doors were open and I peered around a few of them and no one seemed to be about. Ray was a rotund, huge man and he sat in his chair with feet upon his desk tipping his robust chair pivoting on strong rear legs backwards and forwards. He waved to an unspecific number of chairs all with piles of papers on seats and roared,
"Sidown". Selecting a chair in line with his feet and eyebrows, albeit with the most papers, I lifted that obtrusive pile on to the floor and answered,
"Up the Baggies". I wondered why he had kept me waiting, cynically assuming he was reading what I had given him for the first time. The thought was immediately dismissed as we got down talking serious business about the Albion for half an hour. Our favourite team having lost games and been demoted we were now winning a few but not enough games in the old third division. The manager had been sacked vacancy and Ray said he was disappointed he had not been offered the job. We had not nearly finished when Ray ending the conversation saying,
"You get the first half hour with me free; now what sort of mess have you gotten yourself into". He did not say if this was the beginning of the free time and as he never gave me an account we will never know. Now he had read the court papers, I handed him the video and asked him to view it over Christmas.
Quite confidently I told him I would win my right to reduce the height of the trees - I had studied the law on damages and needed to itemise with an expert the likely scenarios to follow. I had to be ready in the unlikely event of losing. As ordered by the court I would be exchanging expert's reports with my opponents in one month's time on the Particulars of Claim on the very dodgy issues of property enhancement and revaluation having no basis in tort. Even if the judge accepted it in law the Plaintiff's figures on the Particulars were wrong.
John Wetherell, my tree expert knew he had to prepare a second affidavit exhibiting a reliable number of estimates contesting the exaggerated expenses of my opponents if, my alleged damage had to be restored.
In addition I would be putting into court my third affidavit that would address the weaknesses of our previous evidence even though we had moved beyond them. This had to contain, in case of losing, evidence to my alternative defence of the "abatement of nuisance"; the essential points of law in this 'backstop' were that if I lost my main defence - my actions were the least harmful of any of the other alternatives and, that I had given clear notice of my intentions to remove the nuisance to the Plaintiff.
That was a whole load of law and a massive amount of evidence to present. It was amazing and having gone this far I was confident. Ray seemed bored; he had not studied my file sufficiently, so I asked,
"I do not trust any barrister to speak for me but can I pay you fees for your advice in the correct presentation of my defence and sit behind me to advise me on law and an opinion on the best of any proffered choices". Ray said,
"I have been a barrister" which promoted my instantaneous reply,
"If the rules allowed me to brief you and I know they don't, would you represent me"? He answered,
"I fucking well wouldn't". So I went on,
"My alternative is this; if you know a guy who is not only good but absolutely exceptional I would accept him and engage you to brief him. Ray came up with,
"You are dead lucky because I know just the man; he is absolutely mad but fucking brilliant". I answered,
"That is exactly the bloke I want".

Making a daily 9 o' clock start I had been swatting law and court procedures at the University Law Library for a week. Until I officially engaged Ray; the CAB Legal Advice Bureau every Monday evening (after queuing) and; Patrick Dalton at the University of Central England, (with his students away for Christmas), would give me advice, in small packets on specific things but, all this was exhausting and time consuming and my energy and time was needed on the actual practical details of my evidence.

The judge, if he did not come down on my side, wanted my expert's evidence countering the 'RE-RE-AMMENDED PARTICULARS OF CLAIM' that - I had enhanced the value of my property by £2,000 and decreased the value of Stantons £4,000 by reducing the height of the hedge. In the late eighties there was one main estate agent handling all properties in the Bournville Trust. I wanted to see the boss of Messrs Rice and it was not easy to convince the office desk staff, as they could not envisage a customer who had needs other than buying or selling a house. After persisting for three consecutive days I convinced them and was ushered into the presence of a kindly old gentleman who had returned to the premises especially to see me. He was very sympathetic to residents living next to awkward neighbours and problem hedges and promised to write me a letter, as a court exhibit about his experiences relating to buying and selling houses with such problems. He had retired himself and was too ill to provide an affidavit and a day in court to help me. As it happened he had worked with a young surveyor and valuer who operated a business on his own, locally, on the estate. Tony Brunt was a regular on the Ed Doolan talk show, advising phone in listeners about purchasing their freehold. He responded to my invitation and visited. We got on well and after long discussion when he learnt the whole background of my case and got to work. He had a month with the Christmas period intervening. At my suggestion he took away with him the sympathetic letter his old colleague, Mr Rice had sent to me. This experience of a life time buying and selling BVT properties was to be attached as an addendum to his affidavit.

A couple of years ago the Bournville Village Trust was involved in a minor case in the Chancery Division of the High Court and asked a similarly but eminently qualified City Surveyor / Estate Agent to supply a supporting addendum to an affidavit - to testify that BVT property had a 20% premium over similar housing in the city and surroundings. This he averred was the result of the controlling covenants. Secretary Thompson offered me this letter to present to the court. I was thrilled as it seemed that he was prepared to help me and agreed to take the stand if required.
Tony Brunt brought the draft of his affidavit and we talked it all through and made corrections attached the two addendums and it was ready, after swearing, for E-DAY, 15th January.

Tree expert witness, John Wetherell came up for a day. He had trawled tree nurseries and wholesale outlets and obtained the best possible quotes for tree replacements and construction works should the judgement go against me. These were half the cost of what the Stanton expert had quoted.

I got the photographs back from the processors and started work on my third affidavit. There were to be three colour exact replica copies each to be separately sworn. One was for the court in the knowledge it would never be returned. The other two were for us. Six ordinary photocopies of the exact one before the judge were made - one for the Stanton lawyers and the others spares. Colour photo copies in 1992 were of extortionate cost, indifferent quality and not easily available. These were original prints and these I explicitly labelled and numbered these one, two and three. Later I told Abe, the Stanton solicitor and offered him an inspection sighting of one of our colour copies as he legally had to have actual copy of that presented to the judge. I never saw his lurid colour picture evidence against me. Strangely enough he rang me. He tried very hard to be friendly even to the extent that I had showed 'considerable flair' in the handling of my case. It was obvious he missed my previous solicitor. Before I sacked him he said they got on very well together. They would both be enjoying this case at my expense and would only gain money. I pointed this out and added my unqualified hatred of solicitors and him in particular for what he was being paid for by a thoroughly unsocial neighbour. He got very uppity and threatened to sue me if I was implying dishonest behaviour. He could not see my perception that he was operating an expensive extortion racket against me. It was quite a legal racket, of course but what of the moral issue? Why was I wasting my time on all this instead of enjoying the festive season with my family? It was alright for him, he was being paid for all this. I hated him and all solicitors and the Stantons. There was the positive side, I loved the study and learning at the quite University Law Library. It was endowed by a Trust on condition that the public may use it subject to student priority. I was using the practical knowledge, learning a new profession.
Only a few days to Christmas and it was necessary for me to present as relaxed appearance as possible and join in the celebrations. I set out my fifth application for further and better particulars of claim and took it in to Abe's office to give him something to think about over the holiday and handed it over to the receptionists. It was quiet and Christmassy so I chatted them up. Abe himself passed by and he nodded his head in acknowledgement but didn't ask what the hell I was doing there. Always at the back of my mind was the balancing of the pros and cons of defending myself or engaging our whiz kid barrister. I gave myself to 10th January to decide that. One day I was certain to have him, next day I would not. Then I would have a day off worry only to be guilty I was wasting time not applying my mental processes. Yes I would win in which case no barrister would be needed. Hadn't Recorder Wolton told me he would not need my expert witnesses? He was a top Barrister from Lincolns Inn, expensive in himself as well as the out of town costs - that was before the solicitor's costs. Thousands of pounds and apart from the value of the house we did not have that much. And supposing we lost? We would still have to pay and also the costs of the other side, even without damages.

That worry was nothing until the real bomb shell dropped. It was yet to explode. Our daughter-in-law, Rose would decide on Boxing Day whether she would leave Ian and the boys. Whatever her decision, she would cook Christmas dinner at her house and the boys would not be told her decision next day on leaving. There was no good way of separating without the boys who never would have gone with her. Christopher was eleven and a half and Andrew was just over ten. They were to keep the status quo; their home, bed, Dad and us.
I confidently predicted she would not go but the prospect pre-occupied us and certainly pushed out the legal matters from the front of my mind. The boys walked round to us on Christmas morning and we had them all to ourselves whilst they opened their pillow cases and played with their gifts as happy as can be, totally unaware that their lives were about to change forever. After a couple of hours they were bundled into the car followed by their parent's gifts and other seasonal fare. Unpleasant subjects were never mentioned during the dinner, clearing up and whole afternoon. The boys were occupied in their bedrooms as the Queen told her people of her Annus Horibilis. I mentally whispered a quiet 'amen' to that - it was not pleasant for any mother when two, let alone one of her children parted from their spouses and of course the terrific fire and loss of priceless historic treasures. It occurred to me that Rose's mother and father had to contemplate their first born parting from his wife a few months earlier and they knew nothing about their daughter's intention. We returned home to watch what little the TV had to offer, leaving the evening free for the visit of young people and their children.
On boxing-day morning the Clays came down from next door but two. Sue, John, Liz then twenty years and Becky eighteen, were close friends and already part of every Christmas for the last 10 years. When the phone rang I knew immediately, before picking up the receiver; then Ian told me Rose had gone and he would be coming round with the boys. I went into the living room and told everyone in one gulp. There was not much point in keeping it back.
"Rose has left Ian and the boys". There was an impenetrable silence that seemed to last so long, the I broke it,
"Ian is bringing the lads round". It was the most devastating conversation stopper that I had ever uttered since at the age of fourteen I told my parents over breakfast that I did not believe in God. They fully expected me to be struck down dead and I was a bit unsure and very relieved and a little surprised that I wasn't myself.

I have no intention to tell you about what is a very private family matter except the following -
I have no notion of the scene enacted as Rose left as it must have been cold blooded as it was all considered and planned. Ian spoke to the boys after their first scream of protest, agony, sadness, anger, frustration, helplessness, guilt and any other emotion that shook them as the door closed behind their mother; crying would never bring her back but they could cry if they wished. He would take them to her, where she had a room and bunk beds, whenever they asked, otherwise, they would continue to sleep in their own beds and live in their own house. Now he was taking them to their grandma and grandpa for cuddles in their home.
There is no nice way to transact such business. Ian had worked it out and he transacted the divorce proceedings himself, retaining the custody of the children. The assets of the marriage were amicably distributed.
Rose came and we had a close hug, she sobbed. Tears come to my eyes now as the sadness is recalled. The separation was irrevocable and inevitable and Ian has always accepted half the blame. I have explained the addiction to gardening in an earlier chapter anyone who has not succumbed to the bug will never understand. I have a tendency to become obsessive to some things to the exclusion of all else - that is why the Stanton camp was unwise to take on such a dangerous opponent. Garden addicts stick together even if they hold contrary views on everything else - they become anti-social. Parents would visit me at school to bring me plants - most likely they had plants from my cuttings in the yoghurt pots children brought to me. This was before Ofsted and the National Curriculum - you couldn't get away with that now. But the parents would go away without talking properly about their youngster. Garden obsessives completely sublimate unhappiness. I would grow thousands of plants from cuttings and seeds and always give the very best to Rose. We would go to the Kings Heath show and be together for five hours and never talk anything else but plants. That would come to an end and so would her plantings.

There was a fortnight to go to my D-day. Should I relinquish complete independence and continue to conduct my case myself? Whatever decision there was a stack of very important legal work to do for the 14th January and the exchange of reports and my work on the third affidavit. John Wetherell visited again and we discussed his second affidavit so did Tony Brunt for his first. He could have done with looking at his opposite numbers report but that would not be available for a couple of weeks. That settled they took them off for corrections, compilation and swearing on oath.

Saturday January 10th my self imposed D-day arrived. We had an invitation to Sam and Sheila's' sixtieth birthday. At first I declined then thought - the reception room is in a nice pub with one or two secluded nooks and good draft bitter, Maureen would be driving. She needed to go as Sheila was an ex-school colleague and her friends would be there I was interested because the couple bought our last house from us twenty-two years before and I expected there might be some ex-neighbours. I explained that I would absent from the hall myself - giving reasons - but nobody understood the turmoil in my mind and, why should they? It wasn't long before loud pop music started and it was obvious that conversation would have to be shouted and I got the hell out of it. It was something I have found impossible to tolerate. I was lucky in finding a quiet, smoke free spot and I began to drink and think. No paper and pen, all the issues were known. My final decision was based on the worst outcome of the uncertainties. I did not contemplate the entirely unpredictable that came about. Three pints did the trick - two to make the decision and the third to enable me to contemplate the consequences and rejoice in no longer being undecided.

I made out a cheque for one and a half thousand pounds to Ray Burford, and posted a letter officially taking him on as my solicitor. That was a lot of money in those days - it was only the first of the nasty consequences.
Next day the sworn affidavits of my experts arrived - these would go to Ray in the package for the court. There must be copies for the Barrister, for Abe Lincoln and myself. I finished assembling three replica copies of my 20 page 'masterpiece' third affidavit on A5 format. Each page had three colour photographs showing the recent ones of the houses, roads, neighbours hedges, the Leylandii with no access for Stanton maintenance, the height in relation to me, the continuing beech together with the angle of the camera and compass points. A number of past photographs taken without intention of further use had been copied as the negatives were still available. Each page had its typed evidence. An interesting one was a photograph of Michelle, our granddaughter at about four years old sitting on the kitchen window sill on a sunny mid summer day taken by flash as the trees deprived of sufficient day light. Another was of the trees of Stanton's contractor started to saw a couple of feet off the height. The accompanying conversation was included. Another was one of his smoky bonfires. Significantly there were shots of some stunning scenes of the garden at its best,
I spent a considerable amount of time and money at the photocopier in the Community Resources Centre where I was supplied with the materials and technique of binding six booklets - three coloured replicas and these had to be taken for swearing on oath, then three photocopies of the one that goes to the judge. One of these copies was legally required to go to Abe - not a replica which was absolutely identical. Nothing was left to the chance of a rejection on a technical matter and it turned out to be important, although Abe and his assistants were not up to it. All this brought us up to 'exchange day' and I was still packing documents; for the court, Abe, my barrister and myself. I took the court package into town and deposited with the court. I was not going to relinquish Abe's package but I put a note in it to say I would loan him a coloured replica, in court. There was no way I was going to relinquish my package first. I waited to see if he would communicate in some way, perhaps come in his car but a taxi arrived at 5.30pm with the plaintiff's documents in an ordinary envelope and that puzzled me. I considered giving the taxi driver the exchange package but concluded he might hold on to it if the office was closed, after all I hadn't hired him. I got into my car and delivered it myself posting through the letter box after first pressing the bell several times without even a caretaker or cleaner responded. Abe moaned that he had not had delivery on the day but I pointed out that was not true he had left his office before 6 pm when it arrived.
Eager to get back and see what I had exchanged for my two months of work and study, I immediately tore open the envelope to find two scrappy pieces of paper, not sworn and not affidavits. The covering letter apologised for the state of one of them that looked as though it had been produced at the fag end of the life of the office photo copier. There was a promise to send better copy. I wondered what the judge had received obviously of better standard but what else that I didn't know about. However the content was absolute rubbish. Roy Finch was surprised at the growth of the trees but having lost the central stem the weaker stems would have to be tied in by specialists with plastic coated cable at a cost of £200 to £300 per annum for the next five to ten years. There was a big space in the letter and it made me wonder what had been taken out. What appalled me was the ignorance of Leylandii growth or more significantly the distortion necessary to fit in with his client's case. Stanton himself removed the central stem by his own hand twelve years before and his contractors had cut off the tops two or three times, the last one well photographed and exhibited in my affidavit.
The Stanton surveyor and property expert, D J Abbot had also had retracted. He described the nuisance the trees would present to the owner of the adjoining property so close to them. His testimony would have been useful were I to lose the judgement and fall back on my alternative defence of 'abatement of nuisance'. He estimated that my reduction in the height would add £4000 pounds to the value of my property. However my law doctor from UCE had told me such a claim from me was 'contrary to tort' and was stated clearly in my defence. Of the claim that my works had reduced the value of Stanton's property, he stated, 'it was possible to argue a case' for a devaluation of between £1000 and £2000'.
The professional presentation was disgusting. I could have accepted such from my pupils, if it was the utmost of their ability but would have refused to take it from any worthy of conveying an impression of the very best. It would never be within my power to draw attention to it within the privilege of court. As from now Ray Burford had paid my money into his private account and he represented me. I physically cut and pasted Abe's copy to get into acceptable format without changing the words and then photocopied that for the bundle of documents, properly indexed for my barrister. I had used the 'near letter quality' of my printer - with a new ribbon it produced a satisfactory end product but not nearly as well as that produced my PC only acquired ten years later. It was a sizeable package and I took it off to instruct my legal advisor. Ray was so pleased, reminding me of his experience as a barrister when he was fed up of getting miscreants off the hook when they were plainly guilty. He was bored with his dull routine of mundane high street high law work. But my case - all the slog of the routine had been done and all that remained was pure law. Then I put my view that was repeated in writing.
In no circumstances would I tolerate mistakes and I would have no truck with the excuse that everyone makes mistakes. I said,
"My arse is on the line not yours; it is my home and life at stake. I know I have won the judgement and I am paying you to make sure everything goes right from thereon".
As it turned out Stanton v Jones was a colossal mistake on its own and every professional, except the barrister we were about to meet, but including the judge, made the most monumental mistakes. I am not talking about lack of judgement or even of ability I mean careless errors that could make a decisive difference. Then I went on to Ray,
"I apologise to you in advance I shall be a pain in the arse because I want to know everything that goes on and you must consult me about everything before it happens".
Ray replied that it was more satisfactory to have a client like me.
What irked me somewhat was that he was immediately on the phone to Abe to ask how much it would cost "for the action to just disappear". I could have told him that the Stantons would have none of it as compromise was out of the question. If Abe really asked his client and most likely did and was refused, that was another time that the old man could have withdrawn with great advantage. Ray told me that Abe was delighted to deal with him rather than me as no solicitor likes dealing with a litigant in person.
At the end of January we had the all important interview with Counsel. This involved a trip to London and Ian and I were in luck.
Boots the chemist had a promotion - buy so much -get a voucher - book a return ticket with British Rail (not then privatised) - get another ticket free. It was easy to spend enough for the voucher, in fact it was a good excuse and of course we spent on goods we would not otherwise have bought - exactly the intention of the promotion. However on presenting the voucher at Selly Oak station they refused to honour the obligation and it was a good job I had sufficient cash on me. Afterwards I threatened legal action without meaning it because of being saturated with that hassle. Boots blamed British Rail and I was sent a travel voucher for the fare of the offered free ticket. I returned it on the grounds that I had already made the journey and indicated the matter would be taken further. It was a big mistake because little did I know that we would travel again within the expiry time.
So we travelled to London and took a taxi to Lincolns Inn. Ray Burford was a graduate of London University and travelled in his 4WD. Money poured out of my pocket.
There was a black, white bearded, uniformed security man ready to meet the taxi to this very exclusive apartment and the brass plate indicated the partners. Obviously we were going in to a slice of legal history and lavish expenditure had modernised and updated these old, old offices under strict conservation order. We were, as usual very early and Ray would arrive, as usual very near to the booked time. However the waiting room was small with a washroom and loo en suite and everything scrupulously clean and meticulous. We were offered coffee. Ray arrived and we made our way up the stairs to a suite of offices in a second floor corridor where we were welcomed by our new Counsel. He was a dark haired man of slender build; he had prominent eyes, largish nose on carved features that positively oozed character. The office was in contrast to what we had already experienced in the building. Far from the expected dark oak panelling, heavy shelving holding up even more impressive legal tomes, the walls and ceiling were white, exhibiting very large, thin framed works of expensive modern art. Ian shook his head and commented to Ray whilst the great man briefly went outside,
"Magnificent", to which Ray replied,
"From grateful clients".
Philip Kremin returned, closely followed by a dapper man with a tray of coffee and found difficulty depositing on the table full of clutter. I knew this had a troublesome potential. He might have found space had not Ray deposited a couple of bundles on that that was vaguely free; instead he balanced it precariously across objects and left the room. Philip served after asking each how they would like it but he rather overfilled the cups. Ray got up to hand them to us but inadvertently pushed his bundle against one of those supporting the tray and the liquid slopped into the saucers and beyond. Phillip reacted quickly and intelligently seizing a bow of tissues he tore into them mopping up the tray, placing tissues in the saucers replacing cups and handing them to us. I made mental notes. We sipped a little, calmed down Philip settled himself behind the table and said,
"Mr Jones, I want to thank you for the excellent presentation of my brief, not many of my solicitors achieve such standards. You must be commended on this affidavit, particularly the presentation of evidence for your alternative defence". Ray nodded his head and murmured agreement. This satisfied me because my team had studied my documents - they didn't understand them thoroughly but Ian did mostly although it was at an entirely inappropriate emotional time. He was working on his divorce which he did on his own. Reading some of my words years later, I find some crude spelling mistakes and irritating grammatical errors, not deliberate, but they had escaped my repeated checks -no one else did. I have made it clear these did not compare to other appalling mistakes on both sides. We did not have the devices on the modern word processors.
My last Counsel had not taken the trouble to call a conference with his client and my solicitor had incorrectly briefed him.
I made it clear to Philip that I would win the judgement but needed the expertise to wind the action up. We discussed John Wetherell and his report and evidence, so vital and yet rejected by my previous team Philip had long periods of instruction from him acquainting himself of the arboricultural details.
At the end of the lengthy session Ray took us off - it was his part of the country and he knew where to go for the best pint. Ian was the same age and they hit it off very well. We did not mention the case at all. We were very thirsty, talked a lot about football and the Baggies who were doing very well in the lower division, heard some subtle jokes and goings on in the legal world. I was quiet and very thoughtful but we were great buddies and went out to call a taxi - not Ray but one thing was certain he would not be driving home.