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Developers cleared of vandalising trees at Sandbanks
TWO property developers found guilty of “the worst environmental crime of its kind” in Poole have had their convictions overturned.
Alistair Collier, 42, from Forest Lodge, Wareham, and Harvey Lee, 67, from Burton Road, Poole, had been found guilty last year of causing, or permitting, the destruction of protected trees on Poole’s exclusive Sandbanks peninsula.
Mr Collier and Mr Lee had always denied being behind the destruction and, following a two-day appeal at Bournemouth Crown Court, Judge Roger Jarvis ruled that they had no case to answer.
Magistrates had previously heard how the men had bought land for £4.5 million through their firm Barrington Homes and secured planning permission to build two houses in Banks Road.
However, the company was in financial difficulties and they submitted a further pre-application enquiry to build three homes in June 2010.
They were told it was likely to be refused and, within three weeks, between 14 and 18 inches of bark had been cut from three Corsican pines and two Scots pines – a practice known as “ring barking”.
The 70ft trees were protected by tree preservation orders and worth £50,000 each. They will now slowly die because nutrients cannot pass through the bark. Mr Collier claimed that the site was insecure and vandals could have caused the damage. He also suggested aggrieved creditors or locals seeking better sea views may have been responsible.
Speaking outside court, after the appeal judgement, Mr Lee said he was “absolutely relieved”.
He added: “I’m still very annoyed. I was completely innocent of committing any offence, or even being guilty of thinking of committing the offence.”
The Borough of Poole’s planning enforcement manager Andy Dearing, who had previously described the destruction as “the worst environmental crime of its kind we have seen in Poole”, said: “We are of course disappointed by the decision and will be studying the implications of the judgement carefully whilst considering our options.
“Trees are a vital part of Poole’s landscape and, despite this result, we are grateful for the support and assistance we receive from local residents in curbing this crime. We are pleased that the appeal decision upheld a council requirement to replace the destroyed trees.”
An application for costs against the council was rejected.