Times September 2010 - 1
Times September 2010 - 2
Mullin Daily Mail Article
Johnson interview 1998
Hedgeman - The Book
The Berlin Wall
the Roaring Nineties
Stanton Turns Really Nasty
End Of The Annus But Not The Horribilis
Hand Of Peace
On Stanton Pay Up
Little Help From The Lord
THE BIG ONE
We had lived through four and a half years of roller-coaster litigation
peaks, troughs, anticipation, expectation and disappointments - yes,
four and a half years since an evil neighbour took us to court - a sort
of less than full enjoyment of life at sixty-seven, despite retirement
with a comfortable pension. So the Stantons, if they wanted punishment
could say they had satisfaction; of course they wanted far more; the
judge told them so. If they won the court proceedings, today and tomorrow,
all they were claiming, our home would be sacrificed; that and utter
ruin was the extent of their desires. If we won it meant no monetary
gain - far better; it would mean release from the trap; immense relief,
security and a chance to live life to the full. I had slept well, was
bubbly, confident, rearing to go and selected, with glee, my lovely
bright, shiny blue, party tie - then I put it back and put on my favourite
one and suppressed my confidence - whatever you do, don't be too cocky.
In fact, I forced myself into a state of reality - I was about to go
into the witness box and, in front of Britain's brightest journalists
be cross examined by one of the arguably brightest young barristers
- I was looking forward to it and, as I found out later the Stantons
and legal team were as well. They wished to brand me as a vicious vandal
that had mutilated their property and murdered their matriarch. I intended
to portray myself and my family as victims of violence from this fellow
resident and his son who carelessly dispensed with any civilised obligation
to appreciate what selfish, needless demands were doing to a neighbour's
family. I had worked it out over the last months and weeks. Great stuff!
Goody, goody gum drops as we used to say as kids.
We intended to get into town early, park and gently stroll to the court.
Ian went to school at his usually early time and drive on his own to
town, arriving smartly in time for the ten am start. The media pack
was waiting outside our house, photographed us getting into the car
and up the croft; then they slipped round the block and record the exiting
Stantons in Paul Terry's very smart Rolls-Bentley, PTS 1; all that was
on the local TV evening news. A much bigger pack was already at the
court house. We walked passed some display windows to reach the doors
and were asked to go back and do it again - as a camera man said,
"I wasn't quite ready for you". We obliged but were startled
next time to see him squeezed in a doorway and laughed at him - he was
dismayed. We did a couple more repeats and our media friends were rewarded
for their commitment; we were satisfied when viewing the evening telly.
The stills in the papers were good - I have just looked at the faded
cuttings of eleven years ago and yes, we were smart; put on a bit of
weight since then.
Cameras are not allowed in the court building - it seemed empty as we
made our way via the lift to the top floor to the empty court room.
The journalists had not arrived; there was no need for them; I had sent
in a comprehensive press release. I had offered to sell copies of the
previous judgements and transcripts - those had cost me £550,
half the cost as the opposition had paid the other half; my cost of
photocopying a hundred pages was too much; the paper had plenty of money.
Not one took me up on that - Ray Burford said it was illegal as transcripts
were crown copyright; marked clearly enough on the cover. They would
be no use to a reporter - readers, listeners and viewers would not be
at all interested. However all had gobbled up my single sheet, brief,
factual, comprehensive releases. The best part was the chronology.
1989 Jones sawed 5 ft off the top
1990 Jones sawed another 4 ft off; Stanton knocked Jones down
1991 Stanton convicted of actual bodily harm.
1992 Jones wins right to cut trees
1993 Stanton appeals
1994 Stanton loses appeal.
This was televised from my paper and put on screen that evening.
The next person to arrive was Mary, my brother's widow; we all loved
and hugged one another; sadly she was not to live very much longer but
she enjoyed then next two days and was particularly intrigued by our
barrister; she was not the only one. Mary was followed shortly afterwards
by Denis and Irene; they had a neighbour dispute over a boundary tree.
Denis had tracked me down and had already begun to campaign for a law;
he was to become a loyal and long lasting real friend; I will tell you
more in a later chapter. The journalists were beginning to flood in;
I knew some of them; Dominic Kennedy of the Times and Suzanne Virdee
of the Birmingham Evening Mail and others; I began to circulate asking
if they had all received my Press Releases; everyone had. Then I glanced
over to the left hand side. Both Stantons, their chief witness, Roy
Finch (he had had already given his witness and been examined by his
side, two years ago; very unusually and perhaps uniquely), Abe Lincoln,
their solicitor and Mr.P., their fresh faced counsel - he did not look
as happy as when he was talking to our first barrister (the one I sacked
four and a half years ago). They all looked miserable but, I told myself,
I had never seen a Stanton smile. That transparent pallor on Paul Terry's
face - the same seen on his mother's face was frighteningly apparent
- was it because they had never eaten meat? Or was it because she was
"Just wait until we get Jones on the stand - we'll get our own
I was relieved to see Ian come in; he had caught up with Ray Burford
and Philip Kremen and I made my way over; so did John Wetherell, our
expert witness. We had a brief hello and Philip began to position himself.
It was as though we were taking the Stantons to court. The seating capacity
of the court was filled and still others came in and were forced to
stand with their notebooks.
The Recorder came in and we all stood in absolute silence. I had warned
all the journalists to prepare for a boring morning whilst our appeal
against a lower court decision for the disclosure of the BVT correspondence
was heard. The Judge began with a tirade against both solicitors; he
referred to their secret, tripartite meeting of a month ago,
"I particularly asked if there was any thing else I ought to know".
Philip was calm, holding up the file of copies of letters, clearly indexed,
that I had laborious prepared and asked if the judge would receive them;
he handed them over; they were very briefly perused by his Honour. The
barrister went on to suggest the appeal hearing be adjourned; when anything
cropped up, the appeal hearing could be resumed - it was essential that
having only two days, we should proceed immediately with the trial.
The Recorder acceded with delight and put the proposition to Mr.P. who
gasped, had a brief conference and agreed. I had worried for three weeks
that the trial would run out of time and would have to be adjourned
again; the immediate impact at this moment was that we had gained half
a day. The Recorder then asked the Stanton counsel that in view of the
two year interruption in his examination he would like to continue to
examine Mr Finch very briefly, bearing in mind we all had read the transcript.
Counsel made the best of his opportunity. There was a gasp and rustle
of paper; the moment of interest had come so soon considering the dire
warning of delay I had given. Philip rose with his own file of copies
of letters. There was real drama. He tempted providence:
"This letter from the Bournville Trust; they inform Mr Jones they
had awarded him the first ever, prize winning garden cup - did you know
about that"? The arboriculturalist did not know.
"Have you ever visited Mr and Mrs Jones's garden"? He never
The wretched man had now to defend a report he made six years ago when
'my works' were only half complete; he had no means of knowing then
he would be in a witness box in a high profile trial so long ahead.
He was then only familiar with simple cases where his opinion and academic
knowledge was uncontested and his word as an experienced tree maintenance
man was considered adequate. Abe Lincoln, the solicitor told me in his
unguarded moment, when vainly trying to make me less hostile whilst
conducting my own defence,
"We (meaning his own prestigious, inner-city firm of solicitors)
did not appoint him (meaning Roy Finch); it was a good move of yours
to appoint a 'quality' arboriculuralist". I have explained in an
earlier chapter that I was advised by a 'quality' tree-botanist to consult
the leading local authority expert and it was he who guided me out of
the local area to find someone of sufficient stature to contest this
witness in court. Roy Finch had technical stature; running his own small
business for years he was eminently suitable to be employed by the best
professional gardeners in charge of estates; he was not only unsuitable
but, worse than useless for employment in this capacity - it was beyond
his scope. It was very harsh to condemn him afterwards for he tried
to be loyal to his client - beyond that which is legally acceptable
by an expert witness in a court of law. Stanton did not pay him his
last fee; he correctly assumed it would not be worth his while to go
to court to collect it - he was strictly a pragmatist and business man
and left the fighting of principle to the Stantons and the Joneses.
So my brilliant barrister (so described by long experienced, hard bitten
court journalists on that day) continued his remorseless destruction
of the chief witness and now dramatically pulled out his 'two feet by
one and a half feet trump card', "The Picture", that astounding
photograph piece from the Esther show, from underneath his bench. He
asked permission of the judge, showed it to the opposition and asked
the witness if he recognised it. He had little option but to co-operate
with his interrogator's and tormenter's invitation to make the obvious
assumption and of course got it right. It was an astounding, striking
piece of evidence to which he was not accustomed.
"This photograph was taken two years ago, have you seen the other
evidence we have produced that the hedge has grown beyond that so it
is now taller than the Jones's house". He did.
"Then how does this correspond with you evidence that brought this
matter to court that Mr Jones's actions would induce disease that would
kill the trees or enable them to be destroyed by the weather".
"I plainly got it wrong".
At this point Ray nudged me and moved his lips without sound, I wrinkled
my face, sharply turned my head three times, shrugged my shoulders and
turned in utmost fascination again to enjoy the verbal mugging,
Next day, The Birmingham Post cartoonist, Gemini brought out his masterpiece
of a court usher staggering into court with a massive Leylandii in a
tiny pot with the caption, 'It has grown since the case started m'lord'.
Ray gave me another nudge and I turned irritatingly and this time broke
into a broad grin and stifled a loud chuckle; he had written in large
letter on a piece of plain paper just three words YOU HAVE WON.
Philip Kremen softened towards the witness; it was more a criticism
of the opposition team and plainly meant for the judge.
"It is understood in these sorts of proceedings that an expert
witness must maintain independence and must never distort to enhance
his client's case. Let us now examine the further evidence you have
produced"; Philip had it in front of him and he destroyed it bit
by bit; the credibility of the witness was hopelessly destroyed to the
extent he would be advised in future to concentrate on the practical
side of his business. However this was boring drudgery until it came
to its painful end on leaving the stand; the witness was heard to remark,
"That barrister is an animal not a man".
The court was adjourned for a two hour lunch. The Stanton bunch without
their expert witness and presented a grim spectacle. We met up in a
consultation room and a delighted Mary was taken along and introduced
to Philip; he was as usual very restrained; cautiously optimistic. We
meandered out; it was fine, sunny and dry; a lovely day for November
29th. We split up but Ian and found a table for our coffee and snack
to talk through events; Philip and Ray at another table. We were not
long, got up, left and started to talk outside. Philip said,
"Be perfectly honest, what would be your attitude to not going
on the stand tomorrow?" I winced and spluttered and said,
"I shall do as my professionals advise".
"After all this time, you are fully entitled to your day in court
- any how, no need to decide now; I wish to catch my opponent unawares".
This amazing request shut me up - the anticipation of tomorrow was beginning
to bear down even as the adrenaline worked - my brain was working on
different replies to each of a multitude of questions from Mr.P. - I
did not answer.
The afternoon was of the most excruciating boredom. John Wetherell answered
questions in scarcely audible, slow measured tones. Many of us said
afterwards that we did not hear properly. He was at considerable pains
not bear any hostility to his fellow professional, give a balanced,
professional view point steering very carefully away from showing any
prejudice towards me. The judge congratulated him in his generosity
towards his opponent witness in trying to give explanations for his
previous false testimony; really he had enhanced himself as truly independent;
Maureen thought he had gone too far. He had produced skilful addendums
to the report for the court two years ago; they were progressive and
dated indicating the uninhibited growth of the trees. Copies were before
the judge and the opposition team. Of course his view was substantially
those of the opposition expert who faced with what he had seen on site
the day before and all the photographic evidence had to tell the truth.
I felt the tension in the room was caused, waiting for me to go on the
stand; shortly it was obvious that that they would have to wait till
next day. From then on everyone dozed.
Mr.P. asked about the lurid photographs that had brought about the whole
case - did they not prove I had carelessly mutilated the trees. John
indicated that he would have to ask me about that. The barrister's body
language indicated he most certainly would. But John helpfully indicated
that with the magnitude of the task of reducing a neglected hedge, the
raw stumps exhibited unfinished works.
I was wondering about my three year old counterclaim. One of my legal
friends told me about this; Stanton revived his action a year after
he had secured his injunction. I looked it up in a text book for the
solicitor's final examination: a defendant could include anything in
a counterclaim - including murder, rape and libel. I certainly did the
libel; also the bodily harm in the assault by Paul Terry; action by
the Environmental Health Department for persistent garden fire nuisance
and others. Certainly Mr.P. took it serious when he moaned to Judge
Alan Taylor that he would have to plead against them. The old, experienced
Judge patronisingly brushed aside his complaints with a shrug of his
shoulders and spoke thus,
"You will soon get to know these neighbour disputes are about everything".
However there were enough guts in my counter claim to take up the whole
of next day - that is if it was introduced.
Eventually the exhausted John Wetherall was released to go home. Philip
asked for the adjournment and, also a conference with the judge. This
was agreed with the opposition and both Counsel agreed to a private
talk between themselves. Philip told me this was pure lawyer talk that
would be of no interest to me; before we all parted he handed Ray a
paper with names of two law books; he wanted them in the morning. Ray
nodded as if they were very familiar. Ian and Maureen were waiting and
I said I'd go to the loo and catch them up. When emerging from the double
glass doors I shielded my eyes from the camera flash lights and was
besieged by reporters with mikes. I was totally unprepared and my answers
to questions had to be impromptu and somehow conjured up,
"This has been one more day of my ordeal with a neighbour from
hell". That was headlined and I was shown in all the evening news
bulletins. I coined the phrase which named a formidable TV series. Philip
had seen it from his hotel room at the Hyatt Hotel. Maureen and I never
had never would (well we thought we wouldn't) stay at such an elite
hotel; this class is entirely beyond our income bracket and status in
life; then we winced; it was coming out of our fees. No it wasn't it
would be paid for by Stanton - goodie!
Anyhow the normally staid barrister was roaring his head off, and said
the nicest thing, bearing in mind his visits to the White House,
"You have wiped President Clinton off the front page -
"Neighbours from hell, neighbours from hell; I like that".
It has become, like Leylandii, part of the language. I was very relieved
there was no sub judice reprimand coming from him: I was wearing my
light blue, silky, party tie which contrasted against the last November
drabness - true, it was mild and no one had winter scarves and coats.
Ian had taken us into town and this time there was no TV presence outside
our house or the court although there were TV cameras and plenty of
flash. We woke up early and I was hyped up with delighted anticipation,
so looking forward to facing that barrister from the witness box; then
I thought: I was Stanton's only hope; if they could wound me in front
of the media it would be a consolation to them; they had hurled so much
muck and trash at me it was inevitable some would stick. They would
have been working on that for weeks. Why give them satisfaction? I can
hurl back at them and enjoy it. Why shouldn't I? I don't know; I really,
really don't know. The decision is not for an amateur, is it? Particularly
when deciding for oneself? Both solicitor and barrister were earning
a terrific fee; let them earn it. Philip washed his hands of the business
and thought I had invested enough of my life in this case to ask me
He summed up yesterday's marathon between the two tree experts, the
evidence from the two property experts given two years ago and of course
old man Stanton himself, when he had lost his temper - all of that was
on the transcript that the reporters did not have - they were now beginning
to scribble a bit. You could feel the tension in the air. Philip did
not know whether or not I was going on the stand. Ray had not mentioned
it to me yet. He nudged me and whispered,
"Are you going on"? I answered,
"That sort of decision is for you to take". Ray was very agitated,
"No, no, no, no it is entirely up to you".
"What are you getting bloody paid for then"?
"You are entirely correct, I concur one hundred per cent".
Philip had reached the latest re-re-re-amendment of the particulars
of claim lodged since the old man had been on the stand. He paused,
made a tiny bow to the judge, bent down to Ray and said,
This last gasp Stanton amending of his much re-amended claim was a very
serious mistake - his lawyers must have forgotten and not read the record
of the old man's testimony. Philip had closely examined him on the reasons
for making such a big claim and Stanton had stated quite emphatically
he would use the money to replace the trees - even though, after I had
cut them they were high enough and lush enough, particularly on his
side. Now they bigger than the defendant's house and now he wanted to
punish his client. The Daily Mail reporter said there was a hiss from
Stanton - he did not say which one but I cannot remember that because
as he was building up the anticipation of his opposing Counsel of me
going on the stand - he paused then dramatically punctuated the dead
"I rest my case".
There was absolute astonishment amongst the opposition. It was still
early in the morning session and everyone expected that I would be examined
till the lunch break. Philip had said he wanted to catch his opponent
unawares and he had.
Mr.P. had made his bad mistakes and his decision making was even worse
under stress. He said,
"Your honour will no doubt have his own opinion as to why the defendant
has refused to testify". My heart jumped into my mouth but the
judge quickly assuaged my fears when the answer came,
"Mr.P if it helps you in any way I have to say I have no opinion
about it whatsoever". Mr.P. was visibly taken aback and I realised
the cock sure certainty he had of winning four years ago was still with
him. He was re-enforced by the opinion of my first barrister when they
were laughing and joking outside the courthouse. He really, really believed
I had cooked my goose my not testifying. It didn't get better for, deprived
of me as a whipping boy he tried to use a piece of his client's evidence
- his wife had seen someone with binoculars looking at her - there was
a gasp of breath a shuffle of note pad, and a swish of biro as he added,
"This signifies a peeping tom at work". My heart sank as I
constructed the headlines; Philip was on his feet with objection but
the Recorder beat him to it with reproof,
We had seen the man embarrassed a number of times before and as before
he went a bright pink covering his boyish features to the roots of his
hair. He had to retract and blustered and flustered and did his hopeless
case even more harm. Philip followed with his closing statement and
the judge adjourned the court till two pm.; he said he would read his
judgement. The Stanton team was very angry; their patriarch had been
denied the chance of retribution and their only way of consolation was
to tell themselves that I had funked the encounter; the old man, according
to one newspaper report said there were many questions left unanswered.
The opposition did not conduct many interviews; they hated and distrusted
the media. I could see the extent of anger and frustration and if they
knew what elation that did to me they would strike me as both father
and son had done in white rage. The press pack were not ready for the
sudden end and there would be a three hour wait so everything was leisurely;
I gently put it, particularly to the local guys that I had supplied
with so much information - there was no truth in the binocular story
- in fact we did not own any binoculars; lurid headlines would be hateful
- there was plenty left in the saga beyond this trial - what about Stanton's
second line of trees, already ten feet tall? However Dominic Kennedy
of the Times had already visited us, with Luke Harding of the Daily
Mail (he had by now joined the Guardian) after the Court of Appeal;
that produced the fact that I wore a blue dressing gown (when conducting
dawn raids amongst the tree tops) - and where had he got that from?
Of course Maureen - only she would know of any 'peeping tom' proclivities.
Maureen told him she distinctly remembered using binoculars to identify
an albino starling. Dominic came back to me, determined to find out
any lewd tendencies to spice up his report. I couldn't remember the
starling but did remember buying binoculars for Martin's (our younger
son's) twenty-first birthday; he had not left home in 1975 so it was
plausible. The report duly appeared in the Times next day and spasmodically
re-surfaced for a few years, especially in the TV documentaries. The
question posed, 'did Stanton grow his conifers because of an albino
starling'? I answered every time, 'absolute, complete rubbish'. Martin
left home in 1977, and for the next twenty two years the conifers were
too tall to see anywhere into the Stanton garden - by that time Freda
was dead. The Recorder mentioned that in his judgement.
Maureen went off with Mary to the shops, Ray to his office and Philip
we know not - the courtroom was silent and if the walls absorb atmosphere
they were pregnant in anticipation of the judge. I said to Ian,
"Let's go and have half a pint - half only mind; I am not going
to let myself down; I'm not smelling of beer let alone perceived as
being under the influence. Now that was my best half pint ever - it
went down without touching the sides. We had been through so much together
and now the culmination; the victory was within reach - we half laughed
and half cried as we wallowed in the Stanton misery- then Ian said,
"There will never be a time when I'll not buy my dad a beer".
It is harder to refuse half a pint when a previous half pint has begun
to percolate to the recesses of a man's soul - when in needful mood.
We had time to kill and I fetched another pint - what I said about the
half pint has a joyful ring about the subsequent full pint. My God were
we happy as we made our ecstatic way back to the coup de gras and gloat
over Stanton misery - well I hadn't been so happy for years.
The transcript of the judgement is twenty-two pages so it took some
time to read. Inevitably the narrative drains on to the essential guts
the last lines -
"Therefore I find the plaintiff's claim fails - I lift the injunction
but will re-impose it if necessary or appropriate. It is not carte blanch
for attacking the hedge and trees within it".
That sting in the tail jarred a nerve in me but did not bother the journalists:
it caused a lot of bother and massive media hype in the spring but,
more about that in my next chapter. There was no mention of costs; was
our home and financial security safe?
Strangely enough the Stanton counsel, shaken and ashen faced immediately
"Of course, my client is responsible for the costs". This
was purely rhetorical - was it a question? The Recorder stood, bowed
and left. He had had enough. It was over. Everyone was half way to standing;
the Stanton pair was livid with anger and seemed to be taking it out
on their counsel as their expert witness had not returned. The whole
team was badly shaken having moved over the years from cast iron certainty
to losing very badly. It was time to dig and spend again. They were
telling reporters they were appealing; they had the whole of December
to lodge it. A leading QC was hired to review the whole case and that
cost three thousand.
We had the order of the court within days -
1. The claim of the Plaintiff be dismissed.
2. The Defendant be released from his undertaking to the court.
3. The Plaintiff pay the costs of the Defendant on County Court Scale
II, to be taxed if not agreed.
You will note nothing about re-imposing an injunction; no nasty sting
in the tail, no ambiguity about costs.
We were all hugs, kisses, pats on the back and handshakes. The reporters
were desperate for interviews but I promised them a press conference
after a meeting with my team; this we had in a consulting room where
I thanked and congratulated Ray and Philip for their brilliance and
my family and friends for their love a steadfast support. The two lawyers
were cheered out of the room and as they left the building were photographed
and appeared on TV, walking into the sunset. (Figuratively, for actually
they were walking East)
I found the journalists and started the conference by repeating what
I had just said. The main question was what I was going to do now. We
were at the time of the shortest day length, the trees were at the highest
for years, they deprived us of essential daylight; they must not expect
any rash decision; I would try to negotiate but as my press releases
indicated, the Stantons always conducted a policy of no compromise.
Now my rights had been affirmed both in the county court and court of
appeal; I would be exercising those rights to restore my lost amenity.
I thanked them for understanding my problem and their very fair reporting
of it and promised to keep them up to date. Maureen came in and said
there were some photographers outside. That was such an understatement
of the year: it amounted to a lie. As we opened the double glass doors
there were profuse blinding flashes and hand in hand with Maureen we
were led to a row of microphones. As my eyes were adjusted it was possibly
to see the media crowd stretched out before us. There were yelling demands,
"Kiss 'er". We obliged politely; I was bit put off by Maureen
"Beer". She dislikes the smell of beer, so much she will never
kiss me after drinking - at mid day, the sin is particularly despised.
However an exception could be made this day and the press pack were
still unimpressed and yelled for more passion and enthusiasm. I mockingly
"At our age; let us have decorum on the court steps". We tried
harder and there was a massive surge of flash lights. That picture was
on all TV channels local, national and international and with the front
page main headline, national and local press. I was particularly impressed
with a little fellow with a microphone who crawled between the legs
of the reporters in front of him to ask me a question. Our Australian
friends saw us on their breakfast show and over the months we learnt
we were on Canadian, Tunisian and Japanese TV. One thing about the press
pack is they move fast when they have what they want: we were on our
way home. We celebrated by having fish and chips Already there were
calls on our answering service; the first one was from Judith Scott,
the poor lady who had such an unfortunate tree time with her nasty neighbour,
she simply said,
"Congratulations". Then a call came from Eric McInnis of Sky
(although later he transferred to Central TV). He wanted to come to
our party. I said,
"We are not having a party".
"Well, have one, bring your neighbours in - I am bringing the champagne".
Eric and his camera man arrived to set up the lighting and arrange the
scene. The neighbours were delighted to respond to the invitation to
be on the telly - in any case they wanted to know more. Pete Spyby opened
a bottle and the cork hit the ceiling and made its trade mark. That
was all to the good - it made our minds up to having the house decorated
after Christmas. We did not have a Sky dish then, so we were unable
to record it. However we had seen and all that stuff outside the court
on the other three channels was on tape.
Life suddenly felt so different, so easy; we would go to the windows
"We won" or "ha, ha, we won you lost". It was the
first of December and we planned to have a lovely Christmas - despite
the towering trees; they were better than nine years ago when they were
as tall but then they spread five over the boundary and all that was
cut back. I was asked a hundred times when are you going to cut them?
"Not before Christmas - we have to wait for the possibility of
the appeal -and even after then I do not have 'carte blanch' as the
Bournville Garden Centre in the world famous village was a delightful,
family concern run by the Watson brothers; their very elderly, knowledgeable
father sat for years in a comfortable chair in the shop or outside and
talk to customers. It became a regular meeting place for passionate
gardeners who would chat long about their absorbed topic and of course
there were stacks of advice for interested newcomers. I visited the
place as a sort of shrine at least once a week. The notice board would
display details of events including evening discussion groups and open
gardens; the people who had visited my garden were all customers. Gardeners
from London and the South East found it well worth while to drive here
and fill their cars with plants. I bought a tiny, potted Camellia 'Donation'
for seven and sixpence. Derek Watson's wife told me she had rooted the
cutting herself; thirty-three years later it is a magnificent bush giving
a month of beautiful spring blossom each year. The invoice with delivered
heavy goods was DR Watson and you can guess his nickname; he was a big
fellow: his brother ran the ancillary garden design and tree service;
he was massive, tall and large framed. The shop did a huge Christmas
trade and as I went into the shop, Derek spotted me and came forward
to shake my hand; the customers clapped and came forward with congratulations.
"You can have our tree services free of charge on condition you
have our board outside for the TV". I kept my promise but he didn't
- life next to the Stanton is very difficult and complicated. We were
On the second Friday, Granada invited us to Manchester to take part
in their week end show 'Up Front'. It was a wickedly cold evening with
a bitter, cutting wind that was even worse in Manchester Station; the
train heating had malfunctioned and we were perished. The pick up car
was not there and we waited and waited. Eventually I rang the contact
number and got an abject apology and a request that we take a taxi to
the Victoria and Albert Hotel, they were expecting us, they said and
we would be contacted there. It was very plush, noisy and a little smoky
but it was warmth at last; people had come in out of the cold or stayed
in to keep out of it. We were taken to the bar and offered mulled, highly
spiced, festive punch which Maureen refused, so I had hers, but managed
to get her a hot drink. Then we were taken to a floor labelled 'Stones'
and our room was titled 'Stones in the Park'. I like geology but better
still archaeology and by far the most - imposing garden features - massive
rockery stones and alpines. The pictures in the room were rock stars
and a band playing in a park bandstand. We changed and our expected
call came at 8.30; it would be three hours before we were on live TV.
We were at the studio within minutes and found our way to the 'Green
Room'. Neither of us had any reason to know what a green room was. We
had some refreshments and welcome hot drinks. The TV monitors were on;
I thought it was local TV because Tony Banks was engaged in an enraged
argument against a Christmas war-toy manufacturer - he swore,
"You just couldn't fucking care less could you"? Luckily,
nobody except the producer was listening
I envied Tony Banks; nine years ago I would have loved going on air
on this very topic and now it seemed so much nobler than a sordid neighbour
dispute. I have described my peace campaigning years in an earlier chapter.
1986 was the United Nations International Year of Peace and I had arranged
a festival for peace stalls, carols, mince pies for multi faiths and
political groups - couldn't get any Muslims or Tories. I led a candle-
light walk from Cotteridge Society of Friends to George Cadbury Hall.
The Peace Pledge Union always ran a wonderful stall and they were collecting
signatures against the sale of war toys. I noticed that Freda and Bernard
Stanton had signed it. I didn't see the couple but the candle-light
walk had started late and taken a little longer than expected. Helen
Stanton, wife of their youngest son and her children had delivered notices
advertising the event around her local roads. Now, I was really thinking
about that and wondering why such a dire state of hostility existed
between us. That event did not bring much peace to the two families
did it? I told Tony Banks about his bad language; although it did not
offend me, it would with people he had to impress; it would do nothing
to help sympathy for the cause; he was not aware of his indiscretion
and a little put out by my criticism; maybe the producer warned him
because his performance was excellent for the broadcast - he was the
decent guy and the military Christmas toy manufacturer, the ruthless
exploiter. Tony knew his brief.
Nigel Evans was very nervous and very unsure of his brief and spent
only seconds in chat and resumed copious note taking and reading after
a very dicey practice session before we arrived. He was doing something
on drugs. We were taken into the studio for the rehearsal and I was
put on the stage. There were two presenters a man and a woman and both
were prima donnas; both objectionable to work with; the man was slightly
worse and he had been given a script of well researched questions to
ask me. To any home owner who had to put up with neighbour difficulties,
any presenter worth his salt could have done his homework and made an
authentic start on hedge nuisance; this guy didn't understand and his
questioning powers were synthetic, even when he practised them. There
was one question I was not allowed to know; that he was meant to bounce
off me unawares, to capture any confusion. I knew my subject.
The theme was 'bad neighbours' and I eventually made way for a fellow
sufferer who, unlike me had taken his neighbour to court for harassment
and won. Under present day legislation the CPS would have prosecuted
on grounds of its racism. Danny Israel's neighbour was anti-Semitic
and unfortunately the boundary between their houses was an imaginary
line running down the middle of a narrow gated, mutual entrance to the
two properties; each had a courtyard with a washing line. The neighbour
would use his for dangling pieces of bacon on strings; it got more intense
and more personal.
It was getting late and at eleven, 'Up Front' started with a brief visit
to the outside broadcast camera to Derek Hatton leading well wrapped
up tenants anti-drugs demonstration in Liverpool. Nigel Evans, as the
Tory Government's Health spokesperson was interviewed. Then back to
the outdoor, shivering, TV watching Hatton for brief comment. Then the
Christmas feature with Tony Banks and back to Liverpool for a couple
It was late and the finale was about to begin. Danny and I were introduced
by the well practised presenter followed briefly by the TV news clips
of the long, long, Stanton v Jones neighbour battle and court drama.
It was self explanatory, entertaining and provided relief from our ersatz
presenter. He concentrated on the dispute; its length intensity and
enormous cost; this produced loud gasps from the audience. Then the
googly was sprung; the one kept back to create confusion in me and sympathy
for my neighbour; it was the only time the man was not as flat as a
"You deliberately broke the law didn't you"?
I was ready for this; just two weeks ago I was prepared for anything
the Stanton barrister was prepared to throw at me; he was no barrister
and I did not answer and that threw him.
"You deliberately mutilated an old man's trees disregarding his
age". This was brilliant stuff introducing emotional heat and you
could feel the effect on the audience. I immediately wondered if Paul
Terry Stanton had been consulted - I had been told he had refused to
"The Birmingham County Court and the Court of Appeal found I had
not broken the law; you saw from your introduction; he had been spoiling
my family's enjoyment of our home for years then sent his son round
to punch me to the floor in my own house. You felt the audience sympathy
moved to me. The presenter then transferred his attention to Danny Israel;
his neighbour had also refused to appear; he was very articulate and
had the practice of taking and presenting his own case in court. There
was trouble with his transport from the London area and with local airports
at both ends he was flown here. It reminded me with the muck up with
our collection from Manchester Station. For a long time I could see
Maureen in the audience but could not get near to speak; she had got
chilled right through; although it was really stiflingly hot in the
studio it had not been possible to recover. She was ill over Christmas.
There were 'mediators' present; some professionals brought in by Granada
and some well meaning amateurs from Christian groups; the ones who were
asked to speak were sanctimonious humbugs. The experience was a useful
introduction to the species about which I shall deal with in my next
chapter; suffice to say these guys considered themselves as God's solution
to warring neighbours; I asked myself what planet they were on. I put
"How on earth can you find a solution, if either one or both is
absolutely entrenched in a no compromise, no give way mode - in fact
that mode is in itself the punishment and retribution from their side"?
Danny Israel expressed the same view. The show wound up with a return
to the ice cold Derek Hatton and residents; our car was ready to whip
us off to the Victoria and Albert; we used only one of the single beds
so that I could wrap my arms around the shivering Maureen.
We thought we would be first for breakfast but Tony Banks was half way
through his, sitting alone at a window table. We all had plenty of time
to talk as other guests were sleeping longer. I said how I admired him
in 1983 for offering to give up his safe seat for Tony Benn who had
just lost his Bristol seat; this stopped him from entering the contest
for the Labour leadership.
Granada paid all our expenses and a surprise cheque dropped through
our letterbox later in January; it was for £100; I had neither
asked for or been offered any money. It did nothing to fill the hole
in our finances. Ray wanted a substantial payment over and above our
regular ones; counsel had demanded his £7000 + VAT up front -
that reminded me of the name of our show. Someone had to pay his stay
at the Hyatt Hotel; it was hardly likely that Stanton would pay up quickly.
John Wetherall asked Ray for money and was told he had to wait for the
costs to be paid; so he came to me; it was Christmas: John was an architect
of my success; I paid him a thousand pounds; later, Ray was furious,
"I should be the one paying him; I might have paid him twice".
Not a chance, John had yet to submit his full account.
'Up Front' only went out to Northern England so the people who knew
me were in ignorance. Six days later, the day before it broke up I visited
the school from which I had retired thirteen years ago: for each of
those years I was invited back, an indication of esteem, as it was also
for my ex-colleagues: few of us accepted; those that had a deep affection
for the place. Those that had left for promotion owed allegiance to
their new post but many retirees were only too glad to let go and never
had any intention of returning. In those years almost three generations
of pupils had gone through their school years from start to finish.
The present members of staff were so young; they looked like pupils.
But the 'Parents Association' seemed to be intact; we were about the
same age; like me they did not feel any older; their children had long
since left, even before I retired. They functioned as a social unit
to enjoy one another's company and raised money for specific school
projects; I was part of them - the only member of staff; they appreciated
that and presented me with a wonderful gift at my retirement party.
There a few parents from my time were present, why I knew not for their
children would be twenty- five and yes, one or two of them were there.
It was supposedly the Head's party - he was retiring early - at the
same age that I did. One thing was certain - everybody recognised me
and I had a lot of talking to do. That was the last time I went back
to school. I was amongst the last to leave the event and it was with
a twinge of sadness; a little tear ran down my face. It took a moment
or two seated in the car, wiping my eyes, before starting up and driving
the twenty minute journey back home.
It is twenty-two pages long and composed well before the end of the
trial. It is a transcript of the official tape recording; we did not
ask or attempt to buy that of the previous one and a half days proceedings
as there was no need. The Stantons obtained one for their Queen's Council
who would spend his Christmas reviewing that and all the other court
proceeding and advise his clients if there was a viable appeal. The
transcript and fee would be at least another £3000 and a complete
waste of money.
Only a tiny part of the judgement was reported by a score of journalist
and went quickly round the world via TV, radio and print; most of it
was irrelevant and ignored. I vaguely remember skimming through it at
the time and not being at all interested - it was over. I've just read
it again, eleven years after to give you a summary and realised I never
made another copy - no one ever asked.
The Recorder states the way proceedings have been conducted has no bearings
on his conclusions and pays tribute to both counsel - a neighbours'
dispute is the most difficult type of case - nobody benefits but lawyers
- somebody will win and somebody will lose; I have to make the decision
based on evidence.
In eight pages he analyses the findings of the Court of Appeal. What
was it all about?
Firstly what works were done to the trees by the defendant? The first
works were carried out by the plaintiff; the second by the defendant;
thirdly, they have re-grown.
The defendant's right is to maintain, repair and replace.
Quoting precedence: maintenance is more than keeping in repair it is
to keep something in existence in a state which enables it to serve
the purpose for which it exists. The hedge must be maintained as a hedge
in order to satisfy the duty and obligations contained within the scheme
of management; therefore the height must be maintained. If you do not
maintain the hedge for a period of years then the amount of work required
is much greater than that if it were to be carried out on a trimming
basis year by year. Mr.P. did not make any submissions about repair
though I asked him therefore reduction in height can fall within the
definitions of repair.
Next questions: was what was done in excess of the reasonable, appropriate
or what was agreed? Was the standard of work adequate? Should I approach
upon an objective or a subjective basis? The Court of Appeal says objective.
In his evidence in chief the plaintiff insisted his only interest was
to recover sufficient money to pay costs and to pay cost of replacing
trees then in May he asks for exemplary damages - Mr.P. indicates this
is to compensate for harm and also to punish for doing harm, punitive,
vindictive, retributory, where it discloses malice, fraud , cruelty,
insolence . The plaintiff has not acted realistically or reasonably
and I discount his views on what he considers to be a reasonable height.
I find the hedge has been so maintained as to be both reasonable and
appropriate. I also bear in mind the relative lengths of the gardens
and the Bournville Village Trust Guide of a height of six feet six inches.
In the question of standard of maintenance, I prefer the evidence of
Mr Wetherall to Mr Finch. In the period at which Mr Finch said they
were at there most vulnerable there has been considerable wet snow damage
to other trees yet nothing has happened here. It was not open to Mr
Jones to maintain on both sides. I accept Mr Wetherall's evidence about
the quality of maintenance - the trees look exceedingly healthy to me.
The situation is very different to when these proceedings were commenced.
If I were found to be wrong in my conclusions I would award £100
a year for expert advice over five years. The concerns of the Plaintiffs
wife were of being watched but the trees were not at their lowest level
then and many houses have windows overlooking their garden. I will put
the figure at £500. The increase to the value of the defendant's
property is entirely irrelevant to a claim for compensatory damages.