Dilemmas: How can I stop this man behaving badly?

When Annabel's apparently nice neighbour invaded her garden, and tore down branches and ivy, they agreed he'd consult her in future. Four years later he's done the same, and cut down a tree. Police will prosecute if she wants; a solicitor says she could claim damages. She doesn't want a row. What should she do next?

VIRGINIA'S ADVICE

Occasionally in the papers you read of two grim-faced old neighbours who are arguing over two inches of boundary. After hundreds of court appearances they are still at loggerheads. One may have done a bit of tree chopping; the other may have thrown cuttings over the wall. Invariably they have, tragically, both spent thousands and thousands of pounds on lawyers.

Does Annabel want to end up like this? No. But what does she want? That is the crucial question. She can never get her tree replaced or the branches returned, however much she asks for in damages. She can restore the ivy, which might cost, what, a hundred pounds? So if she goes the solicitor's route, she may be involved in an expensive law suit all for the sake of a hundred quid. I'd say she'd be mad to go down that avenue.

Does she want revenge and punishment? Of course she does, at the moment. She'd probably like to raze this guy's house to the ground. But that's an emotional reaction. Will getting the police to prosecute him for criminal damage result in her feeling better or worse, in the long-term? Practically, it will probably result in nothing more than a small fine. But once she's set the prosecution in action there's no turning back. And it will certainly put this man's back up.

And what kind of man is this anyway? A Jekyll and Hyde, it sounds. He is a man who is apparently reasonable and friendly, and yet can invade her garden and cut down a tree. What makes him turn? Perhaps he might be a drinker. Perhaps he is having a nervous breakdown. Perhaps for some odd reason he feels that Annabel is persecuting him. Whatever, a man who can cut down a living tree in someone else's garden on the spur of the moment is a frightening man. It is wrong to practice appeasement, but perhaps if she goes the police route, Annabel will find herself worrying that he'll invade her house next, wielding an axe. Or throw Paraquat over her wall. Or kill her cat or dog and leave its carcass on the wall. Or poison her fishpond. She's had four years of peace and quiet. Revenge and punishment will get her nowhere.

I'd suggest this: that she writes to this man asking for an apology and an assurance that he'll never touch her trees or plants without consulting her and never come into her garden again. I would also put that she's sent a copy both to the police and her solicitor. By doing this she's making only the slightest of veiled threats that she will take further action if he doesn't comply. If she gets the apology, fine. If not, I would build my fence a little higher, and leave it, even though it makes me choke just to write it.

Disputes between neighbours can take over your life. These days, if you want to sell a house, you have to declare whether there are any disputes going on. If the trouble hasn't been resolved when you want to sell, the price can go down. I probably sound like Neville Chamberlain, but remember, Annabel's neighbour has not invaded Poland. It's not worth the hassle.

READERS' SUGGESTIONS

I know how he feels

While in no way condoning the action of the neighbour in actually entering his neighbour's garden, I have a fellow feeling and wonder whether sheer frustration caused him to take this action.

I suffer from neighbour's ivy hanging over part of the party fence, also pushing through the slats of the fence. Trees and large bushes near the end at one corner hang over my garden and affect the growth of my plants. We have cut back our side where we can, but the growth goes on.

MARJORIE HINDS

Havant, Hants

Use law for protection

Since plants and branches are defenceless against eco-terrorists they need a helping hand. I would not sit back and allow this neighbour to have it all his own way. I think Annabel needs to make a stand, since it is the neighbour who is trespassing and damaging "her property". What is the proper course of action through which to achieve justice? I feel it is fitting that she resorts to law in order to protect her garden.

NICHOLAS E GOUGH

Swindon, Wiltshire

Stand up to this bully

You need assistance from your friends, your solicitor and the police, who should be encouraged to prosecute if they are willing to do so. If you show forgiveness and understanding to this menace again it will not be long before he trespasses on your property again and his attacks will become more daring. He may have the temerity to interfere with the boundary fence, confident that you will be loath to take any action against him. Never give in to a bully.

CATHERINE NORRIS

Wymondham, Norwich

Go to mediation

On the face of it, Annabel's neighbour is totally unreasonable yet she is right to be wary of taking legal action. Going to law is rarely the answer to neighbour problems. My experience as a community mediator makes me feel it's possible that Annabel's neighbour may, for reasons we don't know, consider her as unreasonable as she considers him. If Annabel could enlist the help of her local Mediation Service, she could get together with him on neutral territory and sort out a solution. Mediation UK (0117- 904-6661) has details of local services.

CHRIS CARLING

Cambridge

Give him what for!

Having a rant is time well spent. Why is it our fault if someone else is a complete half-wit? You can't beat a good row. A shout and scream refreshes the parts that politeness doesn't know exists.

DANIEL SMITH

Lutterworth

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

When we married two years ago, I was frank with my husband about the state of my finances. I told him how much savings I had, etc, but he's always dodged telling me about his, he seems embarrassed. He's loving and generous, but 63 and rather upper-crust, while I'm working class. Is this a class thing, and how can I get him to tell me? I need to know how to manage in the future.

Yours sincerely, June

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