Trespassers forced to work, court told

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The Independent Online

Staff at a garden centre in Plymouth forced three young trespassers to carry out 90 minutes of hard manual labour, a court was told yesterday.

The children, said to be in tears, had to haul heavy lumps of wood up a steep bank. They were told they would be burnt in the woods if they returned to the centre again, a court was told. One boy aged 12 asked to go home for his grandmother's birthday but was told he could not leave Woodvale Nurseries, according to Llewellyn Sellick, for the prosecution.

The boys, two aged 12 and one aged 13, were on a bike ride when they climbed a steep bank and entered the garden centre through a gap in the fence. Linda Lindsay, 54, who runs the centre, thought the boys were misbehaving and went to look for them with her son and nephew, Plymouth Crown Court was told.

They "grabbed and manhandled" the boys, said Mr Sellick. One was punched on in the stomach and another on the chin, he said.

The staff accused the boys of stealing and searched their pockets, he said. When they found nothing they forced the children to fetch a wooden pallet, a plank, car tyres and traffic cones from a nearby stream and carry them up a steep bank to the garden centre.

Ms Lindsay then made the children carry heavy branches across the garden centre to build a perimeter fence, Mr Sellick said.

He added: "What they said to the boys was that they weren't going to let them go and they threatened to tell the police they had been there unless they did that work."

Before releasing the boys Ms Lindsay showed them CCTV footage of them working at the centre. Her son Melvin, 34, took a photograph of the boys, telling them he did not want to see them at the nursery again. Ms Lindsay warned the boys she would "burn them in the woods" if they ever returned, Mr Sellick said.

One of the boys' mothers called the police after they returned home. When interviewed by police, Ms Lindsay and Mr Lindsay said that the boys were given the choice of working at the nursery or being handed to the police.

Mr Lindsay said that Woodvale Nurseries had been broken into before on several occasions.

The jury was shown a police video yesterday in which one of the 12-year-olds said that the third defendant, Leigh Docwra, 29, was drunk and smelled of beer. "I was really scared and I thought , 'why is this happening?'" the boy said.

Ms Lindsay, Mr Lindsay and Mr Docwra deny charges of abduction and assault. The case continues.