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







It was Friday, 7th October 1994. Radio WM rang at 6 am; they wanted me for a live, 7o'clock news item. At that time in the morning it is a ten minutes van journey away from Pebble Mill; leave it much longer and it would take the interviewer half an hour through the most disastrous traffic bottle neck in Britain.
The Outside Broadcast van arrived at the bottom of our croft and it did not surprise me, that the initial signal call test indicated the fullest extension of the radio antennae from its roof. In our area, high TV aerial masts are a visual symbol of a communication black spot area. Twelve years after and we can't get the WM digital signal. We were the first spot in the country to let the cable company dig up pavements and lay their fibre optics underground. Bournville Village Trust didn't like aerials, particularly those massive ones. Go two hundred yards up our croft's steepish incline and you get back to normal reception, without need of ugly, outside contraptions. The BBC Radio 'Perfection Syndrome', is so fastidiously particular about the quality of its sound that they refused my request for interview by phone. They reckon being at the scene of interest adds atmosphere, even on radio. This was first of many a broadcast from this spot outside the house; true I spent hours at the studio. Other BBC regions required my services and insisted on taking their signal from a quality line from Pebble Mill rather than phone from my home.
There was no peace for the wicked; on concluding the outside broadcast and retreating indoors, dying for a cup of tea, Central TV rang saying they would be here in a couple of minutes. This was the only media time I experienced absolute panic; 'butterflies' would be severe understatement. My performance would go out to millions and I would be judged by it. Both Maureen and I had been beamed to millions from the 'Esther Show, but then, so were the Stantons, at the same time; the pigs-ear of their ill-tempered performance made it so easy for us. Somehow, I now imagined being interviewed at length about complex legal issues. I comforted myself about my capability of conducting a spirited defence in the High Court, without counsel but my mind was a complete vacuum. Then I calmed myself; no one had the factual knowledge of Stanton v Jones than I. Then panic again: would the interviewer wreck me? Perhaps he would pursue me for shortening the life of a poor old man - put up to it by the Stanton thespian ability. Of course, the TV local and national News recording requirement was for a two minute, or even shorter, slot. The cigar smoking, reporter and presenter was a real pro who loved his job and the people he worked with and amongst. He sussed out the scene, getting his cameraman to take shots of our living room and fantastic view of the garden contrasted with the height gloom and closeness of the hedge. Then, standing with the hedge at my back and microphone and camera in front of me, he sensed my tenseness. He called a halt to everything and putting down his cigar that was mostly never lit; he took my hands and said,
"Relax, just let your arms and hands go limp, there's no hurry, I'm just going to ask you one or two questions, move your arms and point out the things you are talking about". I did the interview perfectly, and so confidently, the first take was accepted.
When 'BBC Midlands Today' arrived, I was practised, relaxed and confident. They were less concerned about the subject; that is me, the Stantons and the hedge - than technical competence and, that is something they went about with infinite care. From now on I began to appreciate broadcast quality, and you really can tell the difference between ITV and BBC though I had not noticed nor thought about it before. Yes, they gave much attention to the hedge and me at all ranges and angles; they were not at all concerned about accurately portraying my cause, as long as it was brief and to the point but, if my performance was bad, they made sure they did a professional, excellent, technical job of portraying it. Thus I learnt a very important lesson - one must concentrate on gaining the sympathy, not only of the interviewer but of the technicians; Maureen and I definitely did in the Esther show, without trying, that is why we were a success and actually cheered by the technician blokes as we left the studio.
However, BBC Midlands Today did a number of 'takes' of me before achieving satisfaction, although I knew their first one was best; it always was and I did so many interviews with only one take, I cannot count them now. Maybe it was my interviewer who, with multiple tries was trying to improve himself. Any how, they went away and I was tired, needed my breakfast and, had not yet had time to answer all those calls of yesterday that filled the answer phone and, as a matter of fact, never did. Eventually I had to empty that electronic box for it to make room for the volume of new calls flooding in; it was obvious it was going to be impossible to get to the phone, every time. Breakfast? You must be joking. Of course, some amongst yesterday's unanswered and now disposed voice mail had got through again. I was prime news and the professionals were quite well aware that reliability of contact by phone was zilch. The Birmingham Evening Mail arrived in the person of Suzanne Virdee; she became very important to me; little did she realise, as she followed on the previous BBCTV callers, that she would become their ace presenter. She is a brilliant girl and a complete professional; presentation of the inaccurate for the sake of the headline is complete anathema. She recognised the years ahead this story would play and gave me her private telephone number. I reciprocated by giving copies of legal documentation, detail and advance notification in the years to come that would be appreciated by the conscientious reporter. The photographer, 'Roly' (I got to know him well - he took thousands of click, zip, clicks zips) also came and the front page, main headline story appeared later in the day

I had been too busy to call at our newsagent, who had delivered the Guardian earlier, to collect papers but had reserved a Daily Telegraph for me. Friends and family, who had seen reports of Kathy Mark's exclusive and, the Birmingham Post headline and front page pictures, had to wait to offer their calls of congratulation, as did those who had heard me on the Radio WM 7 o'clock news. Then the Daily Mail rang asking if I would be in at 2 pm, immediately followed by a similar call from the Times. It was only eleven and I had not recovered from the amazing, previous day, hungry and exhausted yet again after five hours of a yet another, so very different life experience from yesterday's High Court profile - requiring this time exacting, demanding, personal concentration. Photographers had been crawling over our garage roof yesterday afternoon and scores of pictures of Stanton and me outside the Court were taken. It was time to pop up to our news agent to see what was already in the papers: it was astonishing, but there was nothing in depth. Of course the Telegraph was a day ahead with their personal exclusive and they followed it up on the Saturday and Sunday. It mattered not, the story was ideal for the weekend press. In fact it appeared that my manner in releasing the news as I did squeezed the best out of the media. Then, gulping a coffee, I examined what I had been talking about all morning with the realisation it was not about the law at all. All the questions and the answers were about this appalling neighbour feud. The phone calls carried on and I began to stall; it was time for the answer phone to take the strain as I was beginning to go silly; then the London taxi arrived and the driver was told to wait; Maureen spotted the none stop London to Birmingham bloke after a few minutes of his hovering dissolutely outside the house and entertained him with coffee and snacks. Luke Harding of the Daily Mail (he afterwards became the leading overseas correspondent of the Guardian) and Dominic Kennedy of The Times had shared the taxi costs; they sat on our settee and I sat opposite them. They could not see the sky; both jumped up; made their way to the window and cried,
"So that's the hedge". By now I had gone really silly with tiredness but Maureen brought us some of the sustenance their taxi-man was shovelling down. They all wanted the loo at once and were back to ravish the food and gulp down the coffee. I entertained them about crabby old man Stanton spraying his hose over the hedge for days on end; Maureen picking the raspberries under her umbrella; the water company arriving to put a stop to it. Stanton was determined to protect his property from the ravages of his neighbour's secateurs and pruners but, not to the extent of having his water turned off. Well, it only needed a phone call to Severn Trent, didn't it? Then there was the time he dislodged me from my ladder by thrusting an iron conduit through the rung next to my goolies. The policemen had roared at that one: now it was the reporter's turn; my silly mood was infectious: what about being up amongst the birds, at the crack of dawn, to saw down a five foot spike of hedge; they roared. Then Luke Harding giggled,
"What colour is you dressing gown"? If the stupid man thought I would be climbing to those heights, in a dressing gown with a saw with such precarious intent he must be joking. In any case how long does it take to slip into gardening clothes? I don't use a dressing gown. With Leylandii at such a height we have complete privacy - I just get up, make the tea and bring it up to Maureen completely starkers, then I get showered and dressed. True, on these early mornings; Leylandii raids at the crack of dawn, those latter processes were dispensed with in my urge to get out and make progress before the Stantons came out screaming with protest. Luke sussed out the intrusion into my married privacy that was to become his story centre piece, got up and charged into the other room to enquire,
"Mrs Jones, Mrs Jones, what colour is your husband's dressing gown"? Maureen answered instantaneously; appreciating she would disclose her husband's primitive nature to the tabloid press, or reveal her own weakness in some way, answered,
"Blue". That is how six million read it the next day and how false facts may become history.
Dominic Kennedy reported in the Times more legalistically and horticulturally.
We were shortly to be awarded second prize in the Bournville Garden Competition on a judgement made by the experts in mid-summer, remembering they had assigned top place last year. We sadly were relinquishing our first prize cup awarded for 1993.
Non-gardeners must appreciate that every garden goes through phases and, the only way to assess it properly is at fortnightly intervals throughout the year; perhaps monthly in November, December and January although more points would be scored in those visits as more skill is required to provide a variety of interest plants. Sometimes, it maybe, that the performance of a single plant at a particular period of a week, fortnight or month will be the pride of its owner. On my walks through the estate I enjoy at high summer a particular pink standard rose, next door but one; a couple of weeks earlier an orange climber entwined with a dark blue clematis; sometimes for some reason they do not exactly synchronise maybe due to rainfall or sunshine level favouring one or the other; when they do together it is a magnificent sight, perhaps there is a delightful scent for their owner as they come out of the front door. Then, in the first flush of spring, there is an aubrietia trailing over a low, south facing wall - a factor bringing it on three weeks before similar north facing spots. I used to alter my way home from school to pull up and park opposite such a house. The blue was so vibrant I have never seen such, anywhere. In autumn I would stop and gaze at a gable end of an old house covered in Virginia creeper. It autumn hues were breath taking - it was best to catch it at its exact prime not many days before or after. Now, this is the point of my story. I cannot grow mildew free asters - and that includes Michaelmas daisies - and, I adore some of the blues and purples. I think it maybe because there is no where in my garden achieving all day sunshine - due of course to trees. However there is a wild one that seeds itself and travels in our locality; it is mildew free; the 'fastidious, gardening elite' weed it out; it is, I admit a wishy-washy blue, not worthy of a place on its own if space is at a premium. Our wild daisy plant establishes itself as a perennial and en masse is striking, particularly in the first week of October, or thereabouts, when it is at its best. Now my first consideration in the design, structure and development of my garden was the creation of views; this despite the loony, Leylandii constrictions imposed on me by barmy neighbours on my easterly and southerly sides. We must not confuse views with vistas, a single view of the lawn, boundaries and beyond. As one walks down the croft, the eye is drawn to our wrought iron gate set in an ivy clad arch. I planted a small golden yew taxus baccata standishii about fifteen yards into the rear garden exactly in line of the beholder walking down the pavement in close approach to the house. I have a number of treasured views that come into their own at peak times when the plants are at their most spectacular. I had one more distinct advantage on my garden's way to fame - the skill of the photographer garden lover (and what a wonderful job he made) on the complete front page of the Daily Telegraph Weekend Garden Supplement. My deliberately contrived perspective of a pathway winding from the left-hand side of the living room patio window with light blue daisies spotted with lemon centres spilling from either side was a site for sore eyes but the photographer had enhanced so as to give a royal garden winding its way into the misty distance. It was not the judgement of high summer when the prize was awarded or that commendation of the Lord Justice Elizabeth Butler-Sloss two days before,
"Oh, he has a bee-yoo-tiful garden".
Of course we were treated to a weekend fest of headlines, court reports, gardening articles and above all the introduction to the common language stock of the word 'Leylandii'. There were multiple photographs of the hedge from the Jones side; of Maureen and me together in our garden; of me alone, outside the court; and of the surly, old man Stanton but, nothing of his son or of their garden and hedge from their side; my disagreeable neighbours had disappeared and repelled all reporters; his immediate who could supply a camera shot had not offered a glimpse. Our Monday morning post was extensive; our fellow, Loire Valley coach passengers to whom we had said Goodbye, only a week ago, were generous in their response. We only together for five days and only knew one another by our first names. The couple seated behind us apologised for bearing the name Stanton but were as delighted as the others were over our success. We read the letters and displayed the cards and then - nothing. Both the holiday and probably the most exciting week most could experience in a life time were at an end. Exhilarated? Yes. Still excited? Yes. Happy? Yes. What was the impact on the neighbourhood?
John Clay, our dear neighbour from two doors away, took early retirement and called in two or three times a week with his tiny Jack Russell, 'Holly'. John was an enthusiastic, leading member of the local Bowling Club - the Men's section of course - in those days, gender segregation was complete - twelve years after it is still rigorous, but just as highly competitive, internally. The club was and is elitist and exclusive with a membership of eighty, mostly couples, all of whom would deny that. There is a tennis club and a cricket club, scouts, guides and numerous small groups but no pubs. The URC church is central with C of E, Methodists and Quakers on the periphery. There is a hall for a variety of events, an elected village council of ten residents and an AGM. Most importantly is the local primary and the school run; we had been part of that for seven years but our grandsons had left by this time. Here was a vibrant village for a minority but, my guess would be that at a given time the vast majority would scarcely know their neighbours on both sides. Our window cleaners frequented the pubs just outside the area (none allowed within on Cadbury land) and they told me I was referred to as the 'Hedgeman'.
John Clay said that Stanton v Jones was almost the sole topic of conversation particularly since the Esther show. Well, if they all gossiped now, there would be five or six years before the whole thing was finished.
Paul Terry, son of old man Stanton, lives in the upper part of Tillyard Croft. As he swept down in one of his Jaguars, he would cast a deprecating eye at what lay beneath him. Little love was lost between him and his left hand neighbour, in fact some tree trouble lay ahead. The spinney lay beyond his bottom boundary but a real Stanton buddy lived to his right. His name was Mr Twist and his real pal was old man Stanton so you may guess whose side he was on; he was not the sort of bloke to take a dispassionate view. At that precise time, what I had heard of him was not at all good gossip (and that is not to insinuate anything of a sexual or violent nature) but it was pub talk and I told my informant not to tell me. However, Twist told Pete Spybie, (a neighbour who knows everyone and who you ask if you want to know what is going on) that the Stantons had won the appeal. I mention this because so many will believe anything - particularly the tabloids. Nearer still were Mr and Mrs Williams, my neighbours on the south side growing a Leylandii Hedge as objectionable as themselves - I was reserving action on this when we had rid ourselves of the Stanton nuisance. It was impossible to fight on two fronts - that was Hitler's downfall. The old man's next door but one neighbour, Mrs White was also his supporter. There would be one or two more. That anyone should not like me hurt Maureen but I enjoy being hated by pathetic characters unable to recognise truth. All the media was on our side, speaking for their countless millions who also were.

Mrs Judith Scott aged fifty-six lived in Kingstanding with her aged mother who had dementia. She had tree trouble but these were Ash. At any given time I had dozens of seedlings in my garden. They have to be pulled up well before establishing themselves. If all the people were to disappear, Ash trees and Bramble would inherit the earth of the Midlands - quite quickly. This is what was happening to her fifty-one year old, salesman neighbour's garden. One day a paper advertising tree work was pushed through the letter box and Judith responded to the telephone number asking for a call and an estimate. The intention of this action, given in court was that she would discuss this with Mr Green. That did not happen. The 'cowboy tree operators' called next day when Judith was out and made her mother a cash offer to clear the overhanging trees. The lady was very feeble, elderly and terminally ill, accepted this but the men made incursions over the boundary, cutting away and illegally removing wood without right. Mr Green returned from work and immediately called the police; the young attending officer believed his exaggerated story based on the brazen evidence of the cut branches. Judith returned home, was immediately arrested, taken to the police station, put in a cell, given access to the duty solicitor and eventually charged despite the desperate need of her mother for her care. In fact the old lady was taken to hospital where she died of liver failure. Judith had to bear the double stress of detention, wrongful criminal charges and the bereavement. The Evening Mail kindly gave me a contact number; I offered my support and ensured that she was adequately represented. The duty solicitor was a young Sikh; she continued with him; he was very good and secured legal aid. I went to Sutton Coldfield Magistrates Court where the case was adjourned; time was needed to find the rogue tree men but, they were not traceable. The telephone number Judith used was of no further use in supplying the vital witnesses. I met Judith, a very nice lady, undeservedly in great trouble, in crisis in fact. I went to the adjourned hearing by train as Maureen needed the car. There was only one reporter and I was not recognised which suited me as the solicitor was handling it well, and could not cope with complications. Paul Terry Stanton was in the court room and without difficulty at all, managed a cynical sneer.
Half a dozen giggling, gum-chewing local lads were brought in; they were charged with disturbing the peace, drink related offences, obscenities or whatever. They showed utter disrespect and at one point were requested to deposit gum on the paper the usher put in front of them. The case against them was adjourned for social reports.
Judith's name was read out and she went into the dock. The Crown Prosecution case, with the help of Mr Green, their star witness, was overwhelming. He seemed to get away with a lot; Judith told me it was lies and exaggeration. She was distraught and broke down in the witness box and it was implied it was put on for sympathy. The case was referred to the Crown Court which was apparently what the solicitor wanted - technically speaking he was proved to be correct, but the thing had already gone on about three months and that meant months more before the poor woman had time to grieve. As she walked passed PT Stanton, he yelled at her,
"I hope you go to prison".
I walked to the station and phoned Maureen, who had offered to pick me up, with the time of the next train and its e.t.a at Selly Oak; it was derailed coming into the station and there was no way of letting her know as she had left the house; we both waited ages and ages; a nightmare.
We now come to the contemporary part of my story. My case had made Judith's case famous. Publicity was the last thing she wanted as she was a very private person - one good thing I heard was her own grown up children were now taking good care of their mum.
I was walking down the street towards the Crown Court and noticed a crowd of reporters and cameramen. I saw one of them spot me, say something and they all turned with their cameras one hundred and eighty degrees and photographed my approach. We had stacks of time and I talked about my case but there was nothing of news value; I made friends with these newsmen; they gave me their cards and asked to be tipped off when anything interesting turned up. No doubt they would get my spontaneous reaction when Judith emerged, innocent or guilty. It was neither; the court was not in session due to legalities. The chief prosecution witness, Mr Green had been arrested himself and was appearing before a Wolverhampton court. The Crown prosecution could not proceed without him - hence the endless conference. The case was adjourned again.
At the resumed hearing the CPS told the Judge it was not in the public interest to pursue the case and asked that it lie on the file. I didn't get to hear about it but the parties knew what was going to happen. Apparently the Judge was very angry and stated the case should never have come to court. With two appearances of the bewigged of both sides on two occasions, appearances in the magistrates court and police time, thousands of pounds of public money was thrown away. At last the poor woman could grieve in peace. Of course in a technical sense, Mr Green was wronged but, he got his retribution with a vengeance.

At about this time I joined C.A.S.I.A. and sent my £5 annual sub with a £5 donation and was told I couldn't do that so I joined Maureen up as well - really one shouldn't make decisions for somebody else but really trivialities are a bore. The joining was an act of principle and the money was for the financial support of the organisation only. There was no way I was going to be active or go to any meetings for. The letters stand for 'Campaign Independent Adjudication of Solicitors'', or something. What was a certainty in life was that however corrupt, vile, unprofessional, incompetent a colleague was he would be supported by fellow solicitors - with one very important, worthwhile exception. If the guy was convicted in a court of law he was discarded, shunned and treated as a leper by his fellows and, rehabilitation was long and arduous. By now my experience demanded willingness by the Law Society to exert discipline to enforce ethical standards; it had no intention of ever giving it. In fact the governance of the society was in itself wanting in, if not the legal then certainly the moral stature. The media was full of anecdotal misdeeds and in my own good time when my own legals had finished I would add to them and, thoroughly disillusioned, prove rigorous attempts to rectify appalling mistakes would be absolutely a complete waste of time. Media had to be careful otherwise a writ would be slapped on the presenter's breakfast table. It seemed that the judiciary possessed innate sympathy for the closed collegiate of the law profession. Speak to any talk show host - all will substantiate that solicitors' letters are their most common item of mail - I have had my share of insidious, frightening, bullying ones. Ask any solicitor, and if you get a really honest answer they will tell you that the exertion of power is the most satisfactory part of their profession. We were at the fag end of four very tired, hated Tory governments. The last one was elected by mistake; no one ever admitted voting for it; it was still only half way through its term with utterly discredited ministers staggering, some of whom had politically assassinated its previous leader. Hopelessly split, still to painfully linger on, unwanted and unloved. In sharp contrast, here was Labour under a brilliant new leader with plenty of talent untested but straining at the leash to snatch the fruits of office so tantalising within reach. Here was virgin territory for single issue politics to thrive and it threw out talent, a tiny proportion of which was willing to have a go at solicitors. It would have been more if it wasn't for the fact that many belonged to the profession themselves. This is where C.A.S.I.A. thrived for a while. The media were always willing to have a go at the lawyers and the idea of 'Independent Adjudication' latched on. However the organisation was signally bad at exploiting its opportunities. I reluctantly agreed to join a demonstration in Victoria Square, Birmingham. It consisted of a lot of private, individual demonstrations against miscarriages of justice due to their own lawyer's mistakes. Some of these made my heart bleed because family members were serving life sentences. They were all too familiar; the cases needed exposure with TV documentaries. However most were less serious although one or two involved sad family cases. It was hardly the stuff of one single issue, demonstration stuff. A reporter recognised me and I explained that at the moment my solicitor was serving me well but there would be some complaints about my earlier professional representation of my case. The media thought the demo not worthwhile other than the most cursory attention on the local news. I kept up my membership for years and the organisation achieved worthwhile reforms particularly when Geoff Hoon became Solicitor General. It maybe, that the very existence of C.A.S.I.A. prevented the Law Society's unhealthy tolerance of the very worst excesses of its members. In any event, tighter rules were enacted by the Lord Chancellors Department. It was sad when leading members quarrelled so badly amongst themselves that the issue had to go to court. The organisation had secured limited company status and registration; under the relevant laws, this restricted freedom of manoeuvre. There were legally necessary meetings, special meetings and exceptional general meetings attracting only small numbers as the membership was tiny; certainly not because of disinterest. I was telephoned by both sides and sent copious quantities of paper explaining with great bitterness the issues at stake. I was too busy and involved in the intricacies of my own affairs to take part let alone travel to one of these meetings. Eventually the distressful news came through of the sudden death of a leading contender and I can't remember any further communication. C.A.S.I.A. now has an excellent web site.

Ray Burford scarcely needed pushing; I pushed him all the same and he engaged in phone calls to the opposition and got some feedback, how much it is impossible to say. I expect records are in his files as to length of calls for those would go on his expense sheet and we expected to win now. There was no question of the Stantons agreeing a settlement but I encouraged Ray to get payment of my costs of the appeal (as awarded). He failed.

Eventually we got a hearing date for the remainder of the substantive part of the trial. To remind you, this had started two years before, directly after the preliminary judgement was read -
I had the right to reduce the height of the hedge.
All of this last two years was occupied by the length of the Appeal listing and now we were waiting for the resumption of the main trial. We had the three final months of 1994; then Christmas; now January is nearly over. Towards the end of February we called on John Wetherell, our tree expert, to produce a supplement to the report he had already produced for the court; he had as yet not gone into the witness box for the big trial. His new photographs illustrated six years of growth since I lopped five feet off the top to produce those lurid pictures, three years before they were produced before a judge. A year after, I had sawn away another four feet; after that the trees had burgeoned thick green, rampant growth, and grown back to the original height. As March began, the listing clerk had lost and hadn't established contact with the missing Recorder Woltan; this might mean another judge. All this is a mystery but I had given the media notice immediately I was given a date - and when it was cancelled. There was always a bit of instruction on Leylandii and bullying neighbours in my news releases. Then by mid April Recorder Woltan had been traced and a hearing listed for the 13th and 14th of July - however, by June the court decided it would be 25th and 26th September.

Stanton did not waste time - he wanted to carry on a bit of digging in his hole and spend a bit more money; he took us to court on a tortuous diversion. It would be interesting to know who thought this one up and the precise reasons. Was it to frighten or punish me; put me in a worse negotiating position? Use up my financial resources; just the irrepressible desire in the old man's mind urging him to dig still deeper down his hole, rather than fret away doing nothing. Or was Freda's maternal, ghostly voice still nagging her son from beyond the grave?

A notice came of an application to the court to re-re-re amend the particulars of claim. Now they wanted 'aggravated' and 'exemplary' damages. In essence this meant the Stanton camp was demanding a fine so stiff that it would stop me ever attacking the trees again; on top of that a sum was demanded to compensate the old man for his wounded emotions. This was bad, ill thought through, legal advice, as the judgement expressed. The estimated time for the hearing was set down at 10 minutes - absolutely ridiculous; so ridiculous it makes anyone with the slightest bit of commonsense wonder what planet the perpetrators of this nonsense were on.

I was at court with stacks of time to spare and, seeing no one I knew, sat down on one of the benches near the court door. All this was brand new. The Birmingham County Court had at last moved from the musty oak panelled Victorian Building to this new accommodation. It was converted from Lewises - a building my mother had taken me when three years old to see Father Christmas. Since the turn of the nineteenth century and two world wars, Midland families visited Lewises when they came to town on the tram; there was no need to shop anywhere else because you could buy everything here. The architecture remains and now washed and cleaned is still the imposing part of the city centre character it has always been. The interior has been gutted and is white, light and modern. The extensive floor I was on is open in the middle and offices are situated around the periphery to take advantage of the windows.
I was concerned; no one had been in or out of that door, clearly marked with the court and its number. I rechecked the summons. It was nearly time for the hearing and Ray Burford had not arrived; I looked around and saw the approach of Mr P. the fresh faced, Stanton barrister. He approached the door without hesitation and I said,
"My solicitor has not arrived and I will oppose you, myself". As we entered what was only really an office I noticed the plain suited judge, submerged behind his desk typing on his lap top. At this point an out of breath Ray entered and we were asked to be seated on any of the few available chairs. The barrister introduced both him and us and said very little; the explicit, self explanatory paper was on the desk between the lap top and the bulky case file; he addressed the judge as "Sir".
Ray followed with few words; again his objection to the application had already been put in writing. The judge said he had no alternative but to give judgement on behalf of the plaintiff but allow us costs. These covered not only Ray's appearance today but, the reconstruction of my three year old defence, this time by professional counsel. It is unusual for costs to be awarded contrary to judgement; in this case it was because the claim was a previous omission in the first case - the barrister accepted this without opposition. I was appalled that four years after making the original charges based on six year old evidence, the claimant was allowed to have another bullying bite at the legal cherry. It wasn't an omission it was second thoughts.
Up to this point my very brief, clever but amateurish conglomeration of legally competent advice from varying sources, hammered out five years ago, had stood the test of time; now it would be freshly drafted by top counsel in the light of the decline of the plaintiff's case over his last painful, losing years.
Our barrister told us he wanted the trial to start fresh from the beginning again. Ray did not and I agreed. We desperately needed to continue with the same judge (and the Court of Appeal had not only backed his judgement in glowing terms but slightly enhanced it in my favour). We all had the transcripts, particularly of the more than half a day's trial, two years ago, concerned only with the Stanton witnesses. Of course we would have to give way to Counsel's advice but what of the repetition of legal procedure, the tortuous further delay and, the expense? John Wetherell, our tree man had produced an updating addendum of evidence presenting robust growth, particularly of the hideous appearance from my side of the hedge taken by the Stantons six years ago and used to get the case into court. It was a horrific picture then but a lot of my skilled work and natural growth as a result had taken place. John had also just taken samples of fungal growth from a stump. In the possibility that it was a symptom of disease, he had sent it for expert laboratory examination; it proved to be benign. This evidence was retained in case of a challenge in court. However this little foray into court was over. Had not Ray turned up I might have been rude to my disadvantage. The court system was being trivialised by a nasty neighbour dispute - this was vexatious litigation exploited by lawyers and it needed a courageous judge to deem it so.

Then, out of the blue another tricky little challenge was presented which was to assume even greater importance. We had a letter from our opponents asking permission to see all our correspondence with Bournville Village Trust. My first solicitor, whom I sacked, had produced copies of a couple of letters - later, when I was representing myself I exhibited further letters; now Stanton was exerting his legal right to see the remainder of the correspondence. There were case law precedences for such disclosure. Personally, I could not see any advantages he might gain and my initial gut feeling was 'let him have them'. Then a strong feeling developed that he should be refused his bullying demands. I know the Stantons disliked the Trust as all residents did. Later I found out it was more a pathological hate as they thought the Trust had conspired and encouraged me. There was so much early popular resistance to the development of Tillyard Croft; this developed and was maintained as a nasty prejudice. As we were the first in residents a quarter century ago we were subjected to patronising hostility and the residue of this was the only, but still powerful local support the Stantons had. This tended to be passed on a bit when the oldies died, moved into care and, sold their houses to younger families. For our first ten years we kept an open house; officers popped in for coffee (and defying the George Cadbury tradition, often for something stronger); they openly criticised there own trustees for giving way to the capricious demands of the existing residents; one officer described the old man as a crook. What I did not realise was the succeeding generation of officers hated his guts even more than their predecessors because he was surly, ill mannered and rude; these attributes were inherited by his son. However all BVT correspondence was careful and neutral. So we refused and also informed BVT of our decision to decline. Ray had a phone call and a letter; the secretary said if a court ordered him, he would have no option but to comply - in any case I had the correspondence so why couldn't we give it them?

Then we put an unintentional spanner in the works - Philip Kremen could not take the case on that late September, desperate listing date. A year ago we accepted his colleague in chambers to act for us in the Court of Appeal - since then far too much had gone on; both the legal and arboricultural issues were highly complex; Counsel and expert witness were geared up to these. Neither had my knowledge as the actual participant but, mine was so precise and detailed as to what I had done to the trees and, for what reasons, it would clutter things up; our treeman suggested that a schedule be presented and I would support it in the witness box. Apparently this was exactly what the opposition wanted. We must have our brilliant barrister and he desperately wanted to complete his challenging case; he now had detailed, specific tree knowledge by arboricultural researchers within recent weeks. John Wetherell said he had been on a course with the Stanton expert when this had been expounded. So we beseechingly asked our opponents to seek yet another date from the court, giving the reason as Yom Kippur. They graciously accepted - they were actually pleased because they wanted to go back to court yet again. We heard later that the judge was not too pleased and he called a tripartite meeting towards the end of October between himself and the two solicitors to give them the final, irrevocable listing date for the 29th and 30th of November. Ray rang me up to tell me this was a most unusual procedure; he had never heard of it before. He was obviously chuffed with the experience but, I was angry not to be involved. I was excluded from something of vital concern.

Let us go back fourteen months and refer to the past yet again; Abe Lincoln, the Stanton solicitor was either not a straight sort of guy or totally incompetent; he should have lost his license to practice for not producing that vital document in the Appeal Court; alternatively he should have been suspended or subjected to severe reprimand. Nothing happened to him. After the case was over, The Law Society said I should take him to court.

We did not know that the Stanton property was or had been conveyed to the three sons. If it was by Abe's own firm this was a very serious matter and the court informed; the trial would have to be stopped for the action was in the old man's name as owner of the property.
I never knew the actual date of the tripartite meeting but Ray told me that the Recorder asked if there was anything else he ought to know; he was not told about the property transfer or the intention to go back to court again on the disclosure issue; I hope Ray was unaware of this and there was no collusion. Go back to court they did on the 8th November. I was completely in the dark until matters came to light in a couple of year's time and then I was furious there was no communication with the small court and the trial judge. Maureen came with Ray and me to Lewises Building; only the barrister represented the Stantons. It was yet another judge who decided we had to disclose all the BVT correspondence and awarded costs against us. He was very kind and accidentally met and spoke to Maureen afterwards and was very courteous and sympathetic to the strain we were under. He explained that one side had to win and one to lose and the legal precedences were stacked against us. Ray immediately lodged an appeal which would be heard by the trial judge before the final resumption - now only three weeks away. The Recorder was a part time judge and his diary was full. The trouble was - only two days were set aside for the trial; we now had the embarrassment of starting it with the appeal- hence the initial fury of the judge at not being told and no communication within the court system or the solicitors and himself.
Recorder Woltan had ordered that the trial would not start afresh and would continue where it left off two years before. We all had copies of the transcript that ended with the examination of the Stanton tree expert - that was the end of the plaintiff's case. Plainly our tactical and psychological advantage was supreme. Now Philip Kremen could get to work on him in cross examination at the much delayed resumption.

I now had the job of putting together and photocopying five times all the BVT letters received over twenty-five years. They had to be numbered - about seventy and an index produced to describe them. It took me a lot of time; most letters were inconsequential, out of date, quite private but not embarrassing - approval of a greenhouse; permission for a lean- to/conservatory greenhouse, inspection of foundations; disapproval of residents burning garden rubbish; congratulations on getting conclusive action against Stanton by Environmental Health. This was hardly the stuff the Plaintiff needed to be disclosed before the court. This was one reason I had to justify him letting him have his own way. For the sake of completion so that I could swear I had included everything there was a chunk about winning the first prize gardening cup, (competition) judges visits, details of presentation etc. and repeated for this years second prize. I kept the original file and a copy and took along the other four copies to Ray, for himself; the court; the opposition, should they win the appeal and for our Counsel - and boy, did he make use of that?
I also took along the enlarged photograph about two feet by one and a half feet; the 'Esther' technicians gave it me at the end of the show. Ian took the shot two years ago from the garage roof - I was looking at the camera, standing ten feet from the end of the hedge at the point where the ground level sloped and the tree tops were at maximum above ground level; my bald head contrasted sharply with the dark green of the foliage - there was a mountain of hedge above me - that had grown another seven feet by now. At the beginning of the show the TV camera was focused on me then slowly moved from the top of my head to the top of the hedge - it gave the impression to the viewer of the actual scene. The audience gasped as the camera went higher and higher and sharply introduced what the show was all about. It had been viewed by seven million people but probably not by the judge or legal teams. It is now on my web site. The exhibit was borrowed for a TV show and not returned - I will call it 'The Picture' in my next chapter.