Businessman Fined Under Proceeds Of Crime Act For Cutting Back Tree

A businessman has been fined almost £40,000 for illegally lopping back a mature oak to the rear of his luxury property.

Samuel Wilson, aged 40, added a Juliet balcony to the master bedroom at his home in exclusive Canford Cliffs, Dorset. The balcony was shaded by a 42ft oak tree in his south-west facing garden, the subject of a tree preservation order.

Wilson, who runs a student housing business, ignored the order and cut branches some 12ft in length from the tree without the necessary local authority consent. The oak was left looking butchered, with tree experts saying it may never recover.

A neighbour reported the offence to Poole Borough Council who brought proceedings against Wilson for causing wilful damage to a protected tree. On pleading guilty, he was fined £1,200.

Poole Council then prosecuted him under the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize the amount of money by which he had benefited from his crime, namely the increase in value of his home.

Two valuers estimated the increase at £21,750 and £30,00 respectively, one of them reporting to the court that the tree had been ‘virtually destroyed’ by Wilson. The judge ordered him to pay £21,750 to the taxpayer in respect of the proceeds of his crime as well as a further £15,000 in legal costs.

Poole Council enforcement team manager Andy Dearing said: “We are not aware of any other case in the UK where there has been a Proceeds of Crime case based on the benefit of improved light to a property from the destruction of a tree.

“This whole case was about the sunlight to the back of Mr Wilson’s property.

“What was the reason and motivation for climbing a 40ft oak tree to remove large limbs from it?

“The only logical conclusion was it was to create southwest sunlight to the back garden and on to his Juliet balcony.

“In this case, the maximum fine would have been £2,500.

“But the Proceeds of Crime Act took the matter to another level, because it looked at the benefit of that criminal activity and we said it was to gain an increase of between £21,000 to £30,000 in the value of his property.”

Wilson’s conviction is the first time damages under the Proceeds of Crime Act have been awarded for a case involving light. Another businessman, Neil Davey, was ordered to pay £125,000 in 2012 after paying a neighbour to cut down a pine tree to improve the view from the hot tub at his home, also in the Poole area.

The judge, Jonathan Fuller QC, addressed Wilson in handing out the fine, saying, “I am quite satisfied that in this case there has been a benefit and will adopt the lower valuation of £21,750.

“In the case of my finding, I do not feel that the making of such an order is disproportionate.”

As a conveyancer, what is your opinion of this case, do you think the decision to prosecute him under the Proceeds of Crime Act was justified?

Today's Conveyancer