Garden tree felling: Man cleared

WHEN businessman Michael Rockall set about tidying up a few overgrown areas of his garden he had little idea it would result in two years of legal wrangling.

Craig Robinson

WHEN businessman Michael Rockall set about tidying up a few overgrown areas of his garden he had little idea it would result in two years of legal wrangling.

The multi-millionaire ended up with a criminal conviction when magistrates ruled he had broken the law while clearing the land at his new home in Woolverstone.

But now the 65-year-old has been vindicated following a long battle to clear his name - which ended at London's High Court.

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Mr Rockall ran into trouble with the law when the contractor he employed felled a number of self-seeded alder trees and saplings, which had taken root in a section of the 2.83 acre garden which had been left to run wild by the previous owner for more than 30 years.

His intention was to replant the cleared land with native oak and beach trees and return it to the original character it had in the mid 20th century.

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But Mr Rockall, who was recently a partner in a multi-million pound bid to take over Silverstone Racetrack, was brought before magistrates in Lowestoft in August 2006, charged with felling growing trees without a licence, following a summons from the Forestry Commission.

He defended himself on the basis that he did not need a licence to clear trees within his own garden but it was ruled the overgrown section of the land had “ceased to be a garden” more than 30 years ago, when it was allowed to run wild.

The Forestry Act 1967 states that a licence is not required for felling trees in a garden, churchyard, or orchard.

He was convicted of the offence on August 30, 2006, and given a conditional discharge for a year as well as being handed a £750 legal costs bill.

A subsequent appeal at Ipswich Crown Court was turned down in August last year and two High Court challenges followed.

However on Thursday Lord Justice Moses, sitting with Mr Justice Blake, allowed his appeal and overturned his conviction saying the definition of “what is a garden” has become much broader in modern times.

“The Oxford English Dictionary states that a garden is 'an enclosed piece of ground devoted to the cultivation of flowers, fruit or vegetables',” he said. “That definition is clearly now too narrow, as the current fashion for wild gardens and meadow areas amply demonstrates.

“It is important to look at the relationship between the owner and the land and the history and character of the land and space. Mr Rockall's intention was found to be an intention to use the land as a garden.

“The history of the land, coupled with the responsible behaviour and the intention of Mr Rockall, drives me to that conclusion. The court was not correct to find that Mr Rockall could not avail himself of the garden defence and I would allow this appeal,” the judge concluded.

Mr Rockall, who attended the hearing, described the trees which have caused him two years of anguish outside court as “mostly tiddly little things”.

Last night, in a statement released on behalf of his client, Hugh Rowland, of Ipswich solicitors Gotelee & Goldsmith, said: “My client has fought very hard over the last two years to clear his name.

“Whether a garden is a garden depends not on what it looks like or the manner in which it has been kept but on the history of the land, the use to which it was put and the intention of the owner of the land. This decision vindicates my client entirely.”

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