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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 13:36 GMT
Councillor cleared of felling tree
A willow tree
A branch from the willow was hanging into Mr Laing's garden
A Kent councillor has been cleared of any wrongdoing over the destruction of a protected willow tree bordering his property.

Magistrates originally fined Hugh Laing, of Salts Lane, Loose, 500 and ordered him to pay 500 costs after finding him guilty of breaching planning regulations.

But the case against the Liberal Democrat councillor for Loose collapsed at Maidstone Crown Court on Thursday when he appealed against the conviction and sentence.

Simon Wood, for Maidstone Borough Council, said Mr Laing had ordered the lopping of the tree, which was in the Loose Valley conservation area, without permission.

Whole tree cut down

Mr Laing, 64, who was Maidstone Borough Council's cabinet member for planning and transport policy at the time, asked his son-in-law Peter Saxby to lop a branch from the tree last October.

A bough of the willow tree, which grew on an island in a stream, was hanging into Mr Laing's garden and touched a quince tree, the court heard.

But Mr Saxby, 29, used a chainsaw to cut down the whole tree instead of doing as instructed.

Mr Laing was in London on business at the time.

Resigned from cabinet

Mr Saxby, of Middlesex Road, Shepway, admitted the offence at magistrates' court and was fined 700 with 300 costs.

Mark Beard, defending, said Mr Laing had only asked Mr Saxby to remove the part of the tree that was causing a nuisance in his garden.

Judge Warwick McKinnon said the real issue was the destruction of the tree rather than whether Mr Laing could lop off a branch.

Mr Wood then said the council would offer no evidence against Mr Laing on this charge.

Judge McKinnon dismissed the case and ordered the council to pay Mr Laing the costs of his appeal.

Mr Laing resigned from his cabinet post after his conviction at magistrates' court but resisted calls to step down from the council.

He said then that he had been upset by the destruction of the tree as it was not what he intended.

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