A Judge imposed a custodial term of eight months imprisonment, with two months immediate custody and six suspended for 18 months. The Judge also ordered the landowner, Ms Elvina Matthews to pay a fine of £5,000, plus MBC’s costs of £10,795.
The Council started legal proceedings in October last year when the team received a complaint that a large number of trees protected by Tree Preservation Orders in Ancient Woodland were being destroyed.
On visiting the site it became apparent that approximately a quarter of a hectare of protected trees had been uprooted and were in the process of being removed. In addition, a large quantity of hardcore had been imported to raise and level half of the site and two caravans had been placed on the land. A clear breach of planning control had occurred and irreparable harm had been deliberately caused to an area of significant ecological and landscape importance.
A Temporary Stop Notice was served on 6 October 2021, as works were continuing despite warnings given. Tree root balls were removed and further hardcore was imported. The Council then applied to the High Court for an Injunction Order to prevent any further works on the land. An Interim Injunction was granted on 7 October and this was made final on 18 October. The Injunction prohibited:
The Order was served on all parties with an interest in the land, including the owner, Ms Elvina Matthews and it was also prominently displayed on the land.
Disappointingly, despite being served the Injunction, works continued in breach of the requirements of the Order. With a larger mobile chalet home being brought onto the land to replace one of the caravans, there was further clearance of the site with the use of plant machinery; further hardcore was brought onto the site; the site was raised and levelled; stables and fencing were erected.
Due to the serious nature of the breaches of the Injunction MBC applied to commit Ms Matthews for Contempt of Court.
The case was heard on 3 March 2022 when the Court considered evidence from the Council’s Planning Enforcement Team. The Defendant, Ms Matthews, admitted disobeying the terms of the Injunction. The Judge considered the breaches to be major and sustained and showing a contempt for the Order made by the Court.
Image of land being cleared on 6 October 2021