Two-year dispute over hedge ends in fatal shooting

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The Independent Online

A pensioner was dead and his neighbour was being questioned by police yesterday in what appears to be the latest case of hedge rage.

They had argued about a privet hedge dividing two front lawns in a Lincoln cul-de-sac. The tone may have been set two years ago when Robert Dickenson, 52, suddenly decided to take the cutters to the offending hedge.

But this was no ordinary neighbourhood tiff. And yesterday Mr Dickenson was being questioned at Lincoln police station in connection with the death of his next-door neighbour, George Wilson, 66.

The dramatic conclusion to the feud came on a summer's afternoon when both men, who were keen gardeners, could have been tending to their lawns on the council estate.

Neighbours claimed to have heard shouting and swearing, followed by a silence and then at least two gunshots at around 3.30pm on Friday. Mr Wilson, a father of three who lived with his son, was taken to Lincoln County Hospital but died there from bullet wounds.

One neighbour said she saw Mr Dickenson return to his home and heard a gunshot. Marksmen from Lincolnshire police were called and laid siege to Mr Dickenson's semi-detached house, ordering neighbours to stay indoors. Three hours later they stormed the property to find him lying wounded inside.

Mr Dickenson was arrested and taken to hospital where he was treated under armed guard for "non-threatening" wounds. He was taken to Lincoln police station yesterday morning for questioning about the death of the pensioner.

Scenes-of-crime officers were still in the street yesterday while officers continued door-to-door inquiries. Detectives will try to piece together the shooting from scientific evidence. There were no witnesses.

But there seems to be no shortage of accounts of animosity between the two men. After the row over the privet hedge they were also said to have fallen out over a taller section of hedge at the bottom of Mr Dickenson's garden and a 15ft leylandii tree, which was thought to have been the latest bone of contention.

Michael Reidy, 62, who lives opposite the two men, said: "George was a thoroughly decent bloke. He loved his garden and was always out in it, cutting the lawn or doing other jobs. I knew him for more than 20 years and he would always do me a favour - I would only have to ask. He was the kind who would do anything for you. Both he and Mr Dickenson have lived in the close for a long time. I never dreamt either of them would let it come to this."

One neighbour, who did not want to be named, said Mr Wilson, whom he had known all his life, had been involved in several arguments over his garden hedge. "I am so shocked and it is not like I expected it to happen," he said. "He was a really nice bloke."

Mr Reidy added: "My wife went outside when she heard noises at about the time of the shooting, because she knew some of the kids were in the street. When she got out she saw Mr Dickenson - but by then he was in his own living room. She saw him through the window. Then there was a loud bang." Another neighbour, Lillian Johnson, 78, said: "They had been arguing and fighting over the hedge for years because one of them thought it was too low. I think they had been arguing over the size of a tree as well. They were always out in their gardens - they obviously meant a lot to both of them."

One Webster Close resident said: "I know people take their gardens seriously, but if this can happen just because of a hedge then it's just terrible. We've got one man from the close dead and another potentially with the rest of his life in ruins. It's awful - especially for the people who knew them both."

Mr Wilson, whose home was cordoned off, appears to have been the second "hedge-rage" fatality in Lincolnshire in little more than a month.

Douglas Reed, 74, of Louth, was gardening for a widowed friend when he collapsed and died during a row with a neighbour, George Tubb, in May. The incident, over which no charges have yet been brought, was also thought to have been caused by a hedge separating two semi-detached homes.

One of the highest-profile examples of leylandii wars was the jailing last August of Malcolm Girling, 57, and his wife, Marlene, 54, for cutting down a border hedge in Norfolk. In July 2002, a retired civil servant was shot dead in a dispute with a neighbour over a hedge.

There are an estimated 100,000 hedge disputes in Britain. They have provoked such anger that Parliament is debating the High Hedges Bill, which would allow councils to trim plants such as leylandii. Residents whose homes and gardens are overshadowed by hedges are unable to have them cut back because planning law covers only buildings.

The Bill, put forward by Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, would extend regulations to cover hedges, enabling householders to apply to councils for orders to have them cut back if neighbours will not trim them voluntarily. Previous attempts to tackle the problems caused by leylandii conifers, which can reach 12 metres (40ft), have failed when Bills have run out of time.

Michael Jones, president of Hedgeline, a campaign group set up after the 75-year-old former teacher was involved in a leylandii dispute, said that problems were caused by a "deep-seated, territorial instinct" and the fact that "an Englishman's home is his castle".

Pending legislation - the Bill is due to reach its final reading in the next parliamentary session - Hedgeline has published a code of practice for hedgegrowers to tackle problems such as subsidence and the blocking out of neighbours' light.

The seven-point code advises hedge owners to prevent the plants growing to "oppressive heights"; not to grow them so that they cut out natural light or dry out the soil or affect the appearance and value of a neighbour's home.

CASUALTIES OF THE HEDGE WARS

* Douglas Reed died of a heart attack after fighting with a neighbour over a hedge in Louth, Lincolnshire, last month. Mr Reed is believed to have been cutting bushes as a favour for a woman friend when her neighbour complained. A post-mortem examination showed that Mr Reed died from natural causes but there was a question over whether the heart attack had been brought on by the incident.

* Malcolm and Marlene Girling were jailed for 14 days last August when they breached an injunction forbidding them interfering with a dividing hedge. The dispute began when the Girlings cut down a 15ft hawthorn hedgein Witton, near Norwich.

* In 2001, Uri Reginald Bowen, 61, was ordered to be detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act after shooting a neighbour dead in Talybont-on-Usk, Powys, after a row about a hedge.