Hedge gets chop in feud that divided neighbours for 18 years

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The Independent Online
An 18-year battle over a garden hedge took a decisive turn yesterday when one of the combatants was given the go-ahead to lop nearly 20ft off its height.

The hedge - a row of 10 Leylandii fir trees - in the Bourn- ville area of Birmingham, had grown to a height of 30 ft, and Michael Jones, 67, and his wife, Maureen, have been complaining for years that it was blocking their light.

The trees belong to the Jones's neighbour, 88-year-old Charles Stanton, but despite a succession of court cases estimated to cost around pounds 100,000, he has refused to allow them to be pruned.

Yesterday Mr Stanton remained behind locked doors. A cardboard coffin was placed outside his home with the epitaph: "RIP My Lovely Trees, whose gentle green mantle has so nobly softened my gaze against the ugly reality beyond."

Mr Stanton planted the hedge in 1971 as soon as the Joneses moved in. Trouble flared in 1978 when Mr Jones claimed the hedge was too tall at 20 ft and blocked his light.

Following three court cases, including one at the High Court in London, a Birmingham County Court judge ruled Mr Jones could prune the trees to open "reasonable" height. Mr Stanton was ordered to pay costs of up to pounds 70,000, but he has vowed to continue fighting.

In the course of the battle, Mr Stanton's son, Paul, has been convicted of assaulting Mr Jones, papers on the case fill three bulging files and the wrangle has even been debated on Gardeners' Question Time.

The row also made history when a court was obliged to deliver a legal definition of a hedge: "A number of woody plants, whether capable of growing into trees or not, which are so planted after being tended together as to form both screen and barrier."

Mrs Jones said as the trees were lopped: "I'm obviously overjoyed. It's just beyond my comprehension how can anybody be so nasty as to want to stop someone seeing the blue sky and winter sun."

The Jones's problems may not be over, however. Mr Jones explained:"Beyond this hedge we have the problem of a second hedge of trees. In three years' time I know this second hedge will be a nuisance."

The former Labour minister, Lord Howell, is backing the Jones's fight for new laws to give householders the right to control neighbours' hedges and to stop unnecessary litigation.