THE JUDGEMENTTHANK GOD ITS ALL OVER; BUT IS IT?
We stood for Recorder Woltan and I chuckled. We were on the right hand side of the court room on the second bench this time; our barrister had parked himself at the front. I was behind him and next to me was my precious bundle, every paper carefully numbered and indexed based on the preliminary trial. Next was Lynne, young, slender, attractive, immaculate and very clever - she was Philips assistant, employed temporarily by Ray Burfords firm - and also studying for her law exams - she had her bundle beside her - it was different from mine and was indexed the same as that before the judge and the opposition and most likely produced by Abes office. I was out of date already, never mind I could lay hands on any paper immediately; sometimes it was an exhibit to an affidavit and was required on its own and was not separately indexed or cross-filed. I did it on memory. However Lynne was brilliant and had done her homework thoroughly learnt the case and anticipated Philips needs and was sitting conveniently.
Then I began to realise the capacity for generating paper the advent of the photo-copier must have changed the conduct of litigation but, the duplication and consequent lessening of efficiency must be deplored. The clerks keeping the court papers in order must be busy and minimum duplication must be the order of the day. We wasted time when the judge could not locate a paper and it was occasionally convenient just to tear it out of the ring file. I tried to remember to replace it but often didnt and it was often needed again and again. (I have kept a drawer of spares for all these years and must box them up for re-cycling).
Stanton v Jones was exceptional, for a dispute only in its early stages it was minor; then like Leylandii, it grew. When it was over, Ray asked me to clear space in my garage to accept multi bundles then his firm changed premises it was too soon - the stuff would have be cleared and transferred into new storage space and loads of it must lie to there to this very day.
Counsels chambers did not store files in fact they did not file we found a precious colour copy of our prize affidavit on the floor it must have been there some while after it had got separated and there was no other place to put it - everything must be resubmitted with each briefing. Ray could not carry all the stuff on his person after one hearing he gave me couple of bundles to carry, and then told me to keep them. Let us get back to court then.
Next to Lynnes clobber was Ian, he had been quiet in recent weeks but was up to it now. I missed him not being next to him but, as yet I did not know Lynnes exceptional capability. I was expecting Ray Burford any moment but he had not arrived yet. Where would he sit? He would displace Ian who would move behind me. Good, he would be more accessible
Mr Pepperall, representing the Stanton was at the front on our left, he looked even younger, fresher faced and his wig so clean and new. Abe was behind him with a couple of others. But hey, where were the Stantons? There would only be comfortable room for one of them and they would not part. The opposition looked a bit crammed we had spread out and could have hotched up a bit. Ha, ha, thats what they did to us last time.
Counsel was a commanding figure in a court room and was in control below the judge. Eh, and didnt his wig look old, a little grubby and very experienced? Wigs like walls absorb what they cover. Philip changed character with wig, gown and courtroom. I admire him very much. He certainly is brilliant and a terrific lawyer. That is complimentary as I am heavily prejudiced against all lawyers. I spoke with leading court journalists and all said he was the most outstanding Counsel they had ever reported. Some of the best barristers are not QCs. Philip Kremen proves the point. Ray told me during the Clinton era he was a regular visitor at the White House. Outside the court room he is difficult and disconcerting for he can be negative, does not radiate confidence, certainly puts the downside and I acknowledge he has a duty to do that. There are no spare words - he does not utter them and will not tolerate them when he is switched into court mode. Then he can be abrupt and most would find him rude and nasty for he can be careless of the feelings of others but he can instantaneously switch on genuine compassion. He is great and ideal for purpose, my purpose.
Good morning, your honour. My name is Philip Kremen and have been instructed, albeit at a very late stage indeed, on behalf of Mr Jones.
Recorder Woltan answered,
Yes I am delighted to see you here.
Philip argued and cited cases against the judgement I expected to lose, because I had scarcely defended it - that of adverse possession. It is boring, taking up seven pages of transcript and, half way through he pleaded,
I put a marker down, if I may on behalf of Mr Jones, I understand that he represented himself and acquitted himself very well. To which the judge replied,
Indeed, most certainly. It is a matter of conjecture whether Philip would have won if he had been in charge at the trial for he made one mistake which if spotted by the opposition would have sunk him. My conveyance and John Wetherells measurements indicated the trees would never have been in my land. Also the conveyance and land registry documents stated measurements to be thereabouts. The Stanton discrepancy was six feet out so, if the trees were not on Stanton land and werent in mine they must be no mans land or in actual fact would have to belong to Bournville Trust.
Ian had measured his own property against his conveyance, (his house was opposite the Stantons); it was six feet out and, the succession of owners for the last seventy years had never complained for they had no need to measure. We could have wasted the last expensive court- day at the preliminary trial arguing the toss and then have had to come back today and probably more days to argue my essential issue
If I had the right to reduce the height of the trees. That we were about to know so lets get on with it. The judge said,
I have committed it to writing and I will hand down copies at the time I complete it.
The official INTERIM JUDGEMENT is nine pages long and written by the judge and copied by his office. It is not part of that of this days official transcript of the proceedings.
Comment is made that it is between elderly gentlemen with definite and determined views as to their rights and obligations.
There has been violence and police involvement but they are irrelevant to the issues.
Recorder Woltan spells John Wetherells name wrongly throughout.
He makes a huge mistake with his decimal point in that he states the distance of the trees from the chain link fence vary from 114 to 135 centimetres. This is a whole metre and had tremendous significance later. No one noticed it at the time and we had to go back to court to get it changed. He so defined a hedge that became famous in case law.
A number of woody plants, whether capable of growing into trees or not, which are so planted as to be in line and which, when mature, to be so integrated together as to form both a screen and a barrier.
He adds an opinion that he does not consider a hedge needs to represent or constitute the precise line of a boundary he did this because he envisaged the hedge to be one metre away from the fence. He had mixed up with John Wetherells base line on his graph. I always wondered why JW needed a base line It is strange piece of perception because I would have thought that his measurement put the hedge too far away to give me the judgement. (Oh yes, I agreed alright as it would put my south side neighbours Leylandii within the law and give me leverage to bring them to book).
The group of 10 Leylandii is a hedge along the boundary and according to the covenants a party hedge.
The Defendant has and had the right to reduce the height of the trees and associated hedgerow.
Of course, he did say I had lost the issue of adverse possession but my Counsel had put a marker down in the event of appeal.
There was an intake of collective breath followed by murmur and movement as everyone stood to receive copies from the clerk. I heard some sniffling and snorting noises and had not realised till now that the Stantons were directly behind me. They had been exceptionally quiet and Paul Terry had not crunched his keys, sighed or sneered as he had done in Judge Taylors court. Nevertheless I would have been most uneasy had I known. I did not turn just my head but turned around completely to be absolutely sure it was actually them. Standing directly in front of them face to face they looked pig sick and I noticed the transparent pallor creep over the face of the younger man. He stared back at me with those wide, pale, puzzled eyes in silence and, I was reminded of his mother the last time we met at the post box four years ago. However, he was subdued and showed no sign of that rage when he swung his fist into my face.
Of course, we dont really believe Freda was looking down from above, do we? Paul Terry was a complete atheist but, the primeval voice in the depth of his brain was whispering,
Never mind son, that horrible, nasty man has got his way again but keep after him and punish him for killing me.
The opposition was prepared for it, there could be no other verdict after John Wetherells brilliant, graphical presentation of evidence and of course reading the covenant properly, which my previous legal team had refused to do. I am still puzzled why professional teams on both sides had got it wrong.
I was exuberant ecstatic even - it is nice to have confirmed, even that which you expect. Too many of certain outcomes go wrong, complete confidence is foolish.
Tony Brunt, John Wetherell, Maureen, Lynne, Ian and I were in a private side room. Ray had not turned up for Gods sake what was I paying him for?
So now we had won we were waiting for Philip to come back from his meeting with opposite Counsel with an offer to end this ghastly business. Things now stacked in my favour
I will be generous, I told myself.
We just need peace. Of course, the injunction has to be lifted it is ludicrous giving me the right to cut the trees and stopping me at the same time. But I will keep the trees at the same height as they were now. Recorder Woltan stated they were alleged to be at seven feet but there was stacks of photographical evidence to prove that was not so the Stantons lived there they should know.
We were doomed to disappointment Philip came back in semi-panic he had been shown the colour photographs of the saw cuts I had made four years ago I had cut again four feet below three years ago but apparently they made it even worse for my case, just to draw attention to it cuts would have to be there, lower down somewhere. Even worse - two years ago I had cut those stems down again to seven feet lower down still, the faces were large even larger a foot across but the side branches had assumed the function of the once central stem for those years and were massive, springing up to fifteen feet the stumps of the old stems were covered with soft luxuriant foliage on my side.
No, the Stantons averred that the intention of the covenant and, the judgement, was that reduction in height meant I was only allowed only to trim. I had gone beyond that and caused irrevocable damage mutilation as Mr Pepperall was about to explain when the court resumed.
The official transcript is seventy-seven pages and proceedings went on till four pm with an hour break, when we took Lynne to lunch.
At the end of the preliminary trial Recorder Woltan told me I would not need my witnesses if he decided for me. He got Mr Pepperall to agree he would be deciding my costs. Things had gone pear shaped and I had got out of control of the case again. If I, instead of Kremen had been in conference with Counsel on the other side and couldnt convince them to pack the whole thing in and let both sides come out evens oh well, reluctantly I would have had to go on like this no option at all.
Suffice is to say the old man and his no compromises, pushed on by Paul Terry and his primeval voices had reached another of his crossroads; instead of taking the road signposted courageous decision pull out now whilst we are even - they chose the road marked revenge or worry and expense. They went along that one and found the hole they had started to dig when they first took me to court - then they dug deeper. The rest of their family did not agree but then, they were neither stubborn nor troubled by those inner voices. I could do nothing; the judge could do nothing, although exasperated by the sheer futility as he explained in a later judgement.
Mr P. introduced a new bundle for the Recorder. He had difficulty for there were some pages, carelessly transposed in just one careless second by the compiler, but it caused delay and disruption to the smooth running of the court.
By now I was already one bundle (or really it was the index and numbering of documents) out of date so at times I could not follow but, eventually the point was put that the proper measure of damages was the complete replacement of the trees. The cost had now gone up from £27,000 to £33,000 plus justification for the claim for the appreciation of my property and depreciation of Stantons (by my action).
At page 15 of the transcript the high spot of the day was the swearing in of the old man. He declined the bible and affirmed. Philip immediately offered to excuse him - he was eighty-four and showed or acted it for effect- and offered to accept his sworn affidavit and excuse him the stress of examination.
That was such a wise move by my Counsel and excused his subsequent savagery. Stanton wanted yet another day in court and couldnt resist digging more out of his hole. I had been kind to him when I cross examined him and my attitude did me a great deal of good. Philip had no intention of being kind and made him lose his temper a couple of times and, that did us a great deal of good.
Mr P. led his client to say he would spend his claim money paid by me on a replacement, new line of trees. The next startling answer was that the Trust forced him to have the hedge to prevent reflection of the sun from his proposed greenhouse being a nuisance to me. That caused a long boring kafuffle. Philip wanted evidence and the judge wanted plans and contours that the Stanton team had not and could not produce them from their two experts.
Then it was my Counsels turn that he started by accusing the witness of extorting money. The old man accused me of aggravation, all the time, of being put down. Philip indicated that he couldnt see my house except from his dormer window - according to his own witness. Stanton said he could in the winter when the leaves are off the intervening deciduous trees. The judge said the photograph had a silver birch with no leaves it must be winter and you could not see - Stanton said the death of his wife had prevented him from pruning his apple tree and it was now so overgrown it gave him complete privacy. Philip accused him of saying he wanted to replace his Leylandii was made up for the purpose of today and the old man shrieked,
You have got a cheek
Have a look
Then he referred to the shot of the trees from his side neighbour. (This was the shot from Diana Jinks garden that Ian had taken during the Christmas holiday).
Do you really tell his honour it is reasonable to remove these trees no one in their right mind would want to uproot these trees?
That might be your opinion I want an effective screen.
To what purpose?
To comply with the Trust to prevent reflected sunlight.
That went on for fourteen pages of transcript; there were a lot of pauses and searches and it took up the rest of the morning. The torture for the old man was considerable and self inflicted but that inner voice consoled Paul Terry,
We will put Jones through it when he goes on the stand.
Little did anyone know how long they would have to wait this part of the action would not resume until 28th November 1995 two years and ten months. Not my fault you understand but, entirely due to the Stanton propensity for hole-digging.
Transcripts were to cost £1000 and I had to pay half. We had to have them because the Judge could not be expected to remember, let alone the litigants and their lawyers. I found it too boring to read through them properly when we received them eleven years after it is even more boring so, I sift out only those things out of this record that might interest you.
Just you wait till the afternoon session - forty-eight pages, two hours in court. Its a killer not a thriller.
After lunch Stanton was back in the box. He cant have gone home to lunch and a rest. He was eighty-four and I am seventy-eight now and would want to go back home after that grilling for the rest of the day. However the old man was driven by anger and revenge and wanted to get back in court to see me off. I have related how father Bernard could have got son Paul Terry off his assault charge but didnt because he would not compromise with me. I wouldnt have hesitated to do anything to get Ian, my son off the hook. So did the Stanton son relish his father suffering like this? Or was he too thick to realise that when this thing got so far in court a rigorous cross-examination would have take place. No he didnt; Dad survived with me last November by feigning deafness and feebleness. But Kremen (wrongly written Kreman throughout the script) was not letting him off the hook he had actually offered to by just accepting his affidavit but was succinctly refused - open warfare being preferred. Counsel resumed.
Mr Stanton, you have heard we have to come back in several months time.
The old man started to act deaf as he did with me and allege there was an echo in the room. (I knew he acted deaf because, ages ago Freda used to hammer the windows when it was time for him to eat. Sometimes he pretended at other times he was irritated shouting,
Oh shut up, Im coming, Im coming).
At one point after taking up another five pages of script, Stanton shouted,
.we have seen people inside the house looking down with binoculars (that becomes important later) Kremen answered,
..you had to build an observation tower to look at the Joneses ..how long did it stay in position
Three weeks this was a deliberate lie. (It was five months and that was repeated in my affidavits and counter claim).
You aware that the height of the trees was of concern to Mr and Mrs Jones
They were concerned about it, yes. It goes on.
The Trust feels the same concern.
Stanton denied and denied it but eventually lost his temper shouting,
Ill answer your question in my own way if you dont mind.
Pepperall intervened at one point and Kremen offered,
I dont think we need audience participation.
Mr P. re-examined his client, leading him yet again without Kremen intervening, probably because it was helping us. He wasnt aware of this binocular episode before and was milking it for all he was worth, extracting some ingenious fabrications about the goings on.
Eventually the judge had to shut him with a terse,
I think that is fairly obvious. However Mr.P. was to pursue later to his distinct personal disadvantage.
So Stanton took up another ten pages of script since lunch.
The old man stood up to it very well and might have felt better for getting it off his chest. What he had to say was not relevant to his claim. That befell his main witness Roy Finch, the tree man. He took up twenty-three pages of transcript. At times the judge had to reprimand the barrister for leading him. I got so bored I decided to go to the loo. I went to the door, faced the court, bowed slightly and went off for double relief and took my time. On my return I bowed again and regained a seat at this time at the back. The drudgery continued. There was a lot of wasting time when documents were not readily located or the judge demanded better photographs. The witness lied when asked by the Recorder how high the trees were when he took the lurid photographs from the tower. It would have to be brought up during the cross examination if it really mattered It was easy to prove by counting the rungs of the ladder propped against the scaffolding.
The main business was the necessity of replacing the trees and justifying the exorbitant cost. So I didnt listen to all of it, I didnt read the transcript when I got it and only skim it now for your interest. Mr.P. dismissed him at last. My barrister was at his most brilliant saying he could not finish his cross examination, that afternoon. He suggested calling the property witnesses from both sides now to avoid the expense of them appearing for another day in court. Both the Recorder and the opposition concurred. These took up another ten pages of transcript. It is boring and trivial and the judge was later to say that the examination was unhelpful. Kremen only asked my witness a couple of questions.
Recorder Woltan said he had changed his mind about visiting the site and after a lot of fuss and waffle he adjourned the court till the 27th of May for a two day hearing including the site visit. The judge made the remark if that was necessary, implying that a settlement would be a sensible thing.
Curse of curses we had to wait for another three and a half months what a real headache. My understanding was that it was just a postponement and desperate frustration had to be endured. I insisted with myself.
Think positively - Stanton had started the day with the crucial judgement going to me, then gave his testimony and had come out of it badly. Roy Finch had given his and would be so vulnerable in his cross examination upon the resumption and that concluded the case for the prosecution. The case for the defence was still to come and with it the overwhelming testimony of John Wetherell and me. Surely now, the old man would be persuaded to put an end to it.
No, no in the face of such misery the Stantons plunged into the hole and dug furiously they went to the Court of Appeal that is the most expensive court in the land. It upped the stakes by £32,000. Perhaps their reasoning was that it would force me to settle I know Ray conveyed the precarious state of our finances because he told me he had been chatting to Abe. These private phone calls between solicitors used to grab me as I wondered if I was told about every call and what was said. Too many little confidences used to leak out later.
Exactly one month after the hearing, back to court went the old man to ask leave to appeal from Judge Dorman. He ordered that if the judgement was interlocutory, the Plaintiff had leave to appeal. It was done without us being present and that was wrong. However it would have been a long argument and cost me a lot of money.
Ray consulted Philip then sent me a copy of his letter he had sent to Abe; in it he said it was not interlocutory and cited three previous judgements.
I was off to the University Library to study them and to acquaint myself with the white book, which contains the rules and regulations of the High Court. I worked hard for a few days and really couldnt come to a decision the precedence cases were not exactly the same I think it would need an erudite judge to decide. Ray went on telling Abe that the time to appeal was when the whole case was over. He was really doing them a favour and in refusing him they dug deeper, delaying the end for yet another two and three quarter years whilst the hedge went on growing like mad.
Had the Recorder visited in May, very doubtfully he might have ruled against us. There was a weak point in the end of the hedge that neither the Stantons nor their legal team had spotted. Abe had included a photo of himself showing an alleged thin part, in the middle it was guesswork and invited the imagination of the viewer. No, there was damage elsewhere. Sometime and I have no recollection or record when, we had a very sudden, freak, localised snowstorm. I deliberately do not say heavy because in the words of British Rail, who designated it the wrong kind of snow the Eskimos could have identified it with one of their seventeen words for snow but this type was very light and very powdery but in huge quantity and it blew with a wind into ridges across the houses in our immediate vicinity and we and the end part of the hedge were in one such ridge right up to and past our bedroom windows. Outside was a momentary artic desert landscape. Then followed heavy rain and the combination did damage, slicing through the left end of the hedge. The by now, soggy snow had pushed my treasured, expensive, blue, pencil thin 3 metre conifer, Sky Rocket flat on the ground, making it permanently unfit for purpose. Within an hour or two the snow had gone and amid the mire I surveyed the damage. My beautiful camellia was flattened and did not flower that season but, subsequently recovered. There was daylight between the last two trees in the hedge. You could see Stantons neighbours house through it proving the point that if a screen was required for privacy the last three trees were not in line of site with the old mans house. If you stood by the gap and looked through you could see a large laurel bush squashed and a glimpse of the contentious greenhouse not seen before and it was these two obstacles preventing a thin part showing up from the Stanton side. Its a good job the experts and lawyers and the old man himself did not take the trouble to look but it was in the wrong place. The snow damage could have been blamed on me and I would not fancy my chances of defending myself with the explanation I have given you no one would believe it. It took a few months for the daylight to vanish but years for complete recovery. No one ever noticed it. As you can guess it was not the spot I wished the judge to concentrate on. It caused me unnecessary strain and concern. Anyone with Leylandii knows of snow, normal snow lodging in branches and breaking them. We had enough trouble with the Stantons and our neighbours on our south side in the earlier years. We hadnt had snow like that for years.
There was an unplanned break in another Midlands case and Ray brought Philip over to view the site. There was no speaking and when we moved to the spot just described, causing me the only worry I started to explain and was immediately told to shut up. He moved aside some foliage and examined the cut trunks just above eye level. The lawyers did not stay and the visit was over.
A Calderbank proposal was suggested. It was something similar to that proposed by my solicitor friend QEI - she called it a Tomlinson Agreement.
You pay into court a sum of money about which both sides agree but the judge is kept in official, deliberate ignorance. If the awarded damages and costs of the claimant exceed it you pay up the amount less that sum. If the sum is the same or less he gets nothing and you get your money back. On the surface it seems a good idea and I was encouraged to take it on as a measurement of protection should I lose. The thing I asked myself was what was the sum of money at which the Stantons would jump in, take my money and abandon the action? I was convinced they were embarked on ruining me and taking our home by attrition and were unlikely to take say £7000 but, they might. I would still be saddled with the injunction and more importantly why did not my advisors remind themselves that - I had won the judgement.
Now Ray went after them for indemnity over the appeal and Abe gave a solicitors honour guarantee that his client would pay the costs should he lose. That is something Ill tell you about later on.
We had another conference at Lincolns Inn. Kremen was affable, relaxed and, we chatted freely and everyone was upbeat. Next week we had to meet Recorder Woltan again and one thing I emphasised, we had to get him to amend his figures in his judgement. Then for the second time we were off to the pub again, not with Phillip of course and we talked about the Baggies, a subject I will bring up in a while. Ray had plenty of legal anecdotes and we swapped dirty jokes. We were all good pals and never talked about Stanton or his trees once.
A week afterwards we met in court again. Getting the judge to alter his figures was easy; when he was shown the figures on the plan, without comment he bent his head and moved the decimal point to the left and deleted with his pen. Such things are easy for a judge. Abe did not understand what the alteration was and neither did Ray but later he had to find out in the main they were content to leave things to Counsel - there was no one to push Abe because his clients did not scrutinise detail- however it was his responsibility to inform his Counsel, who had already used the unaltered figures before Judge Dorman in his application to appeal, deposit the amended court order when received by his office, in the bundle to the Court of Appeal not as you may think be part of a package brought up from the lower to the higher court by officials. It was significant process I discovered about the Appeal Court it could have been critical maybe a mans life had been taken when a couple of crucial figures had been on a mislaid paper. The last appeal failed against a death sentence had been thirty-seven years before. If Id known then what eventually transpired, I would have shuddered. We know now about miscarriages of justice.
However the Recorders visit to the site was cancelled when he granted the Stanton application to adjourn until after the appeal in fact for two and a half years. The judge would have time off it would be too late for other litigants to use his sparse and valuable time. We know what went through his head when he learnt his judgement had to go to appeal. He appeared unmoved and implacable then but, expressed his opinion in his final judgement. We were not in court for long but my Counsel charged £1000 for the visit. John Wetherell charged £1000 for he had worked very effectively in preparation for this day.
I prepared meticulously for the barrage Mr.P. would launch at me. Every angle was explored and every innuendo examined and the briefest and most direct reply was ready. I was confident because Paul Terrys solicitor had tried his best with me in the magistrates court my advantage was that I had nothing to hide and every disreputable accusation had to be base on lies. Then I had to make sure that my own Counsel knew absolutely everything. I poured this out in writing to Ray, and then rang him up to discuss and make sure he had read it. Then I trusted him to distil the thousands of words and to convey it to Philip. We were ready plus; but all this was wasted. It had in a way; it would never be needed in the form I presented it but, it was stored in the consciousness of my team; perhaps there was no better way to learn it.
Then there was my solicitors major mistake. He acted without consultation with me, whether or not he did Counsel we will never know. He sent Lynne to serve a subpoena on Mr Thomson, secretary of Bournville Village Trust. I would never have done that as he had promised me he would go into the box. It set back my relationship most distressingly. But the writ was out of date and the eagle eyed ex-solicitor sent Lynne back, tail between legs. I was furious with Ray as I had warned him no mistakes. He was scarcely apologetic and assured me no harm had been done. That infuriated me because I had so carefully built up my good will. I dont know what the cost was because I said I would not pay him knowing full well he could put the cost on to something else. He never did give me an account so how could I know. The whole exercise was futile because this part of the action had been adjourned. Philip had been at his most negative but to give him credit he really was most concerned at the escalating costs and my ultimate ability to pay.
I had made a note in my diary that Maureen, Ian and I had a conference. Mother and son were for once in agreement sack our second legal team; that was the best way of conserving our diminishing resources. I saw where they were coming from -
You might find the following of interest. I did not mention this in chronological sequence because it would be distracting to you. At the beginning of the year a news item, I believe in the Daily Express interested me. A Peter Harland of Hertfordshire got his chain saw wielding son, to execute a line of giant redwoods (not of course as giant as those historic specimens in the US) The cut trees now looked very stark diminutive compared with the photographs of the originals which stretched the length of his garden. I found the address and telephone number quite easily. Peter came to visit me and attended my court hearing. Peters intention was to present his neighbour with a fait accompli and then offer to make a substantial donation to any named charity. His neighbour was in no mood to be patronised. When Peter studied my papers and listened to the hearing, he knew he was in deep trouble. The trees at their original height had looked stupid and their size quite out of scale to the properties. I would have been scared stiff in a gale. They would undoubtedly have lowered the value of both properties. There was no way he could plead abatement of nuisance that had been my alternative defence. He had not given any notice of intention nor even engaged in previous notice or negotiation. It was definitely a line of trees. He could not even take up the legal definition of a hedge which he had just heard in court. His offence, trespass and damage was committed before that. In any case there was no convenient covenant about boundary hedges. Peter eventually settled heavily, I believe £6,000 plus costs. He was lucky there was no expensive replacement by mature specimens restitution of the originals, as allowed by law and Stanton was demanding off me.
And now lets talk about West Bromwich Albion. The team spent relegation year in what was the old third division and we enjoyed winning games. We had excellent coaches in Ossie Odilles and his mature, experienced assistant Keith Birkenshaw. They produced attractive football, so much so that we achieved a final play off for 45,000 fans at Wembley with Port Vale. We won, thanks to our adored striker Bob Taylor. We had a wonderful day out and subsequent open air, mass civic reception with a 100,000 fans. Where did they all come from? We were used to about 10,000. We did not complain.
At this point I must mention my brother Glyn although there will be a fuller piece about him several chapters hence. We waited in a long zigzag, ticket queue for six hours on a dry, pleasant day in early May and caught the sun. We were born twelve years apart, a mile away. An elder brother and sister are buried in childhood in Camp Lane Cemetery close by. I went to school opposite the Hawthorns. Glyn knew nothing of this as I vividly recalled. Mother and father had Glyn in their middle forties so his upbringing was different from his brothers and sisters. I had left home when he was nine and had little influence on him after that. His first marriage ended in divorce and the started his family late with his second wife. His son, Andrew is the same age as my grandson, Christopher. Anyhow Glyn had many questions about his early childhood and about the extended family. I cant really think why he was so out of touch but, the six hours went by quickly and we had re-vitalised our relationship close to where we were born; then we were all together at Wembley and beyond. I did not mention my legal difficulties.
The Ossie Ardilles reign after our glorious victory was short lived. Tottenham Hotspur was looking for a new manager and zoomed in to offer their ex Argentinean international who had just excelled in management with us. By his own admission he took thirty seconds to accept his swift rise to one of the top jobs. All Albion fans were gutted, expecting to go on to further glory in the next division. It wasnt to be. The experienced second in command was the immediate replacement coach but was not a success and was replaced by others who were even worse. Competition in the higher league was intense and the board were not in a position to buy better players but we still had our Super Bob. The lads enjoyed the pub, and our quality Saturday afternoons are treasured memories. I never once mentioned legal difficulties. Occasionally we bumped into Ray Burford, our solicitor.
At the cessation of litigation and assessment of costs I had written a hundred letters to Ray. They were well written and never contained any material, not even a bare mention, other than Stanton v Jones. They were substantially assessed and thus challenged by the Stanton team but rejected by the tax judge who had my letters in front of him. It posed difficulties for him because of solicitor / client confidentiality. He did spot checks throughout the pile then he stated,
In Mr. Joness position, I would have wanted to ask these questions to my solicitor.
Ray would choose a time when he was free and ring; we would talk about the Albion for a long time before getting to the nitty- gritty. I never knew how he costed all this time for he never sent me an account. At the very beginning I insisted that I couldnt tolerate my lawyer not believing emotionally that I was in the right. The Stantons really believed they were in the right, certainly a few older local residents believed them to be and, one or two wanted them to be because they detested me. They took the general view, based on law that, you could not lean over the boundary and cut your neighbours property. It was one of those pieces of knowledge that a true born Englishman was born with.
It is not cricket, the oldie residents would state any number of times,
Everybody knows that. But no one knew about the covenant. Every owner had signed their conveyance and if they had bought their freehold which had to be within twenty or so years, they had signed up to the Bournville Village Trust Scheme of Management, where it was item one in the relevant schedule. It was repeated in the conveyances when the house was bought. The Stanton lawyers had not read it; in fact they got copies of both conveyances off me. My first barrister saw my conveyance only minutes before he went into court room on my behalf; he was only interested in no right to light or air. Neither side went to the land registry. Maureen and I did that when we sacked our first legal team. It was also Ray Burfords initial view when he first caught site of my case. But now he was proud enough to acknowledge me, though not so touchingly course, after one of the most prominent land lawyers had done,
You are right; I am emotionally on your side. That was a bit more courageous than my judge who could only pronounce on law.
Ray received a written undertaking from me to pay him £500 per month.
Youll get it all back when youve won.
Ha, ha, ha, ha.
Then I traded in our low mileage thirty month old car a good buy for the next owner - and bought a new fluorescent blue, automatic, power steering sun roof, Nissan Almera on three years HP. It was a smart looking distinctive car and it looked great on TV on the last, last day. It was a dream to drive a matched my new mood of confidence.
Then we went to another solicitor, without telling Ray to convey my share of our property by deed of gift to Maureen. It was not being sneaky to Ray but it was far more convenient for him that he did not know. It would not be effective for seven years in the case of bankruptcy but it would make it difficult to screw money off me.
Stanton illegally transferred his house to his sons he had entered his claim as owner of his property the judge was never told and he was to ask specifically,
Is there anything else I should know? I will tell you more about that later.
I was sixty five, retirement age and yet I had been retired eleven years and have written all about that. But I had worked and studied in the last year. Since employing my professional team I had spare capacity and reverted to a love I had forsaken and went back to my garden. Sowing, germinating, planting, tending. The hedge was now an acceptable back drop and looked good although, rapidly putting on more height. In fact, come to think, it was too high. In law I could cut it but was not going to dive into troubled waters. Come to think there was still an undertaking of mine in place.
I was immensely proud of my garden and, as I have written about that will not go into too much of that, again. We had a note pushed through the door asking for applications to enter the Bournville Village Trust Garden Competition. Entrants were invited to attend a reception in November when prominent TV garden personalities would present the winner with a cup, shield and a voucher for £100 redeemable at Bournville Garden Centre. The judges would be the Head Gardener at the Botanical Gardens, the Head of the Estates Department and another of whom I have no memory or record. I had no pretensions of winning but the idea of becoming involved and advertising my legal predicament to my best advantage appealed to me. I am non competitive and, my view is alien that garden love should be based on trying to do better than anyone else. Fifteen years before I had got rid of all my lawns, front, back and sides. I was regarded as a nut case but some sneakily applauded me as having great courage. However the popularist opinion was that it simply did not conform. Maureen shrivelled under the impact of the local perception of her husband as an eccentric. She took me on knowing my outspoken views against war but being lawn free was not acceptable to those who thought my behaviour as not English. However we had been all those years without lawns which are mono culture and I had grown a vast variety of plants.
Maureen was stressed by entering the competition, though I did leave my application to the last possible moment, she took it in to the Office. She weeded lots of stuff I would have left. This is what happens when you become competitive you are looking all the time about what you think others would expect to see. Weeds grow in weeded patches. I shredded the material she removed with a machine bought at the Chelsea show. Then I stacked my compost. Gardeners of my ilk go round the hidden corners, where I plant treasures and take much interest in the compost heaps these are the fuel houses producing magic material. Maureen swept and tidied the paths I didnt do much of that sort of thing but it did improve matters in a conventional way. The judges arrived unannounced through the open rear gate, very briefly introduced themselves, asked to be left alone and departed. Next day Len the Head gardener rang and asked if he could bring four or five friends along to visit my garden that evening we bought in a few drinks and snacks. Our visitors numbered at least thirty five. I addressed them en masse at one point calling,
You see before you what will be the most famous hedge in legal history the neighbours on that side also couldnt care less about us or the size of their hedge either.
The stretching of our drinks and snacks assumed biblical proportions.
The next day Len rang again and asked if he could come again in the evening and bring a friend. Sue is the wife of one of Ians colleagues and, with the greatest affection I branded her the as much a mad and obsessive gardener as I had been twelve years ago. This pair could identify, with botanical and common names, every plant in my garden. No mention of the competition was made by Len in either evening. I visited Sue and as you may expect her garden, actually it was her trough gardens, was very unique - she also kept an allotment. She gardened from dawn to dusk and beyond and, in every type of weather suitable to her plants. I know what its like when the bug strikes because I identify with it myself. However, for the past year and a half I had been pre-occupied with the law and been obsessed with that. Prior to that I had been immersed in my Peace Festivals I kept very clear of such activities because with my involvement in a bitter neighbourhood dispute, it was inevitable that before long SvJ would hit the media big time. I had spoken to a young local reporter in court and I supposed she had endured some of the drudgery and decided there would be little public interest. No reporter had been present in the magistrates court when Paul Terry was convicted. The news gatherers had missed that one. I was dreading headlines Business man strikes Peace Campaigner or Peace Campaigner Mutilates Pensioners Trees. I had no objection to being called Grandfather or Pensioner but Peace Campaigner must be squeaky clean. I wouldnt have liked Retired Teacher. I thought about relations with the media very much because I knew it would terrify Maureen when the publicity bomb exploded. I wrote a careful factual account and sent it to the local press. Harriet Swain of the Birmingham Post phoned me next day but I explained I had to walk to the school for my grandchildren but according to my next door neighbour, Judy, it did not stop the journalist and photographer from arriving within minutes. It was the main headline on the front page, not as I had dreaded but instead conveyed a sordid quarrel HEDGE ROW COSTS £50,000. I thought it shocking at the time, but it was a conservative estimate and would cost twice that figure. It seemed to be punishing me for not taking the trouble to give 100% to the reporter. Maureen overheard old man Stanton attacking the Post reporter not Harriet, in court it seemed they felt the headline had hurt them. I made sure never to make that mistake again. The Express & Star gave a straight report in mid pages. Court days were very stressful and she always went with me but, the study and decisions, she left to me with sensitive understanding. She had adjusted well to my obsessions for she had a full life of her own about which I have written. So she was able to come to terms with this phase. The lads got to school mainly on their own, always having a key to our house and they felt secure. Maureen took them out, always buying things. Out for breakfast was always a novelty, though Chris preferred to stop in bed. Family relationships were in turmoil the boys had to adjust to three homes. Yes, life was easing off, perhaps after effects of the stress and strain began to show now there was a little more time and sometimes we fell out. There was always the cloud of the appeal on the distant horizon and the drip, drip, drip of our money draining away. We hadnt been away for oinks so we booked up for five days in St Ives in mid October. I drove and the journey was pleasant and relaxed and we didnt quarrel when we lost our way. I was frightened to be away longer in case of some legal thing or other wanting immediate attention. Maureen wanted her feet to touch the sand, to smell the sea and hear the gulls. We saw the sculptures and the art and chose the best restaurants for the first two days and they were expensive and appalling. I enticed Maureen to a pub and the meal was great, thereafter we had pub meals and I had a couple of pints. We walked a lot and got wet a lot. We were used to space between us, the stress had been dreadful and we had to adapt to this relaxed existence so there were a few little niggles and a bigger one. Our proprietress came from Arkansas and supported Bill Clinton. I bought a plant; they were growing in profusion, outside in Cornish gardens. I didnt put the little, brown rosette beauty in the greenhouse when arriving home. There was a frost that night and we lost it. That was why they didnt grow in Birmingham gardens. It was my sheer, frustrating carelessness which is still remembered, so I am not the gardener you think I am.
The tickets arrived for the BVT Gardens Reception in mid-November and that was a night to remember. We won first prize a large cup with our names engraved, as first holder we had to hand that back in eleven months for the name of the second year winner to be inscribed but we had a shield to keep the £100 voucher remained unspent for some years meanwhile we added others to it, eventually buying a wooden sweetheart garden seat and table that we still have. I did say I didnt believe in competition and beating others in gardening didnt I. Well I lied. We were ecstatic, over the moon and the cup nestled in a prominent place for the months to come. Of course, our pictures in the official magazine and we had a letter of congratulation from the chairman on behalf of the trustees and was referred to by my Counsel later in court. This was the sort of thing that was in my mind. I was no longer a vandal and mutilator of trees
Since writing this chapter I have found my pathetic attempt to keep a diary in 1993. It mainly covers the first six months and indicates a struggle to keep the damn thing up to date. It is mundane and humdrum when it tries to cover events on every single day. All the legal stuff is recorded in letters and files. I still have the 5 ¼ inch floppies which I havent referred to, although my old, steam driven computer is still set up. Even in the first six months of 1993 there wasnt much of interest to anyone else records of football games and scores, family meals and mundane events. However they reflect life as it was.
My sister, Connie gave me a purpose call to tell me to lose weight that was a one off and quit unusual.
I moan about the pain in my shoulders as I had done for 25 years and still do; yet I was climbing ladders to clip the ivy that rambled over the walls of the house. The pain restricted my mobility and I cricked my neck; Maureen gave me strong painkillers and I could not move for several days. I had a heavy cold when the legals were demanding. Maureen went to the doctor with bowel trouble. She still has it, but now it is called IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
I started by calling this chapter Glory Days, but changed it on completion. Negative issues cropped up; perhaps the title could still be triumphal by remembering just the positive and loudly cheering the absolutely terrific
the Judgement, the Baggies Promotion and the Garden Cup.
Hip, hip, hip, hurray.