If, like me, you would have thought the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act was all about recovering funds from the proceeds of fraud or drug deals, think again.
As an example, a businessman has been ordered to pay almost £40,000 after illegally lopping back a mature oak tree in his back garden. Mr Wilson added a Juliet balcony to the master bedroom of his luxury Dorset home; unfortunately, his balcony was shaded by a 42ft oak tree that was the subject of a tree preservation order.
Ignoring the order, Mr Wilson cut several branches from the tree without first obtaining the necessary consent from his local authority – the oak was left looking butchered, with tree experts saying it may never recover.
After a neighbour reported the offence to Poole Borough Council, proceedings were brought against Mr Wilson for causing wilful damage to a protected tree. On pleading guilty, he was fined £1,200.
Poole Council then prosecuted him under the Proceeds of Crime Act in an attempt to seize the amount of money by which he had benefitted from his crime by increasing the value of his home.
Two independent valuations suggested the property had risen in value by between £21,750 and £30,000; the judge ordered him to pay £21,750 to the taxpayer in respect of the proceeds of his crime, as well as a further £15,000 in legal costs.
According to the Poole Council enforcement team, this is perhaps the first time in the UK that a Proceeds of Crime case has been based on the benefit of improved light to a property as a consequence of the destruction of a tree.
The case hinged on how much sunlight reached the back of Mr Wilson’s property and an analysis of why he was prepared to climb a 40ft oak tree in order to chop off some of its large branches. The court seems to have agreed with the council that the only logical conclusion was that his motivation was purely to allow the sun’s rays to reach across his back garden and throw sunlight on his Juliet balcony.
In such a case, the most Mr Wilson could have been fined was £2,500 – examining his case in court under the Proceeds of Crime Act took the matter to another level by considering the benefit of his criminal activity.
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