Sutton Council said he had ‘easily exceeded’ the order and took Mr Nicoletta to court along with his wife Weronika (pictured)
A father has blasted a cash-strapped council that dragged him and his pregnant wife to court after trimming a protected tree, only for prosecutors to drop the case.
Luigi Nicoletta, 38, claims he forked out £5,000 in legal costs after he was accused of ‘wounding’ a 35ft poplar protected by a tree preservation order (TPO).
Sutton Council said he had ‘easily exceeded’ the order and took Mr Nicoletta to court along with his five-month pregnant wife Weronika, who previously had a stillbirth.
Mr Nicoletta accused the local authority of a ‘witch hunt’ after a workman trimmed its branches by an extra 14 inches in a bid to save the ‘dying’ tree.
He even claimed he was made to feel ‘on a par with rapists, paedophiles and killers’ after appearing in the dock at Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court.
No evidence was offered by the prosecution so the case was dismissed, while tree surgeon Shane Heard was fined £1,250, a decision he is planning to appeal.
The father-of-one said he feared the tree would crash into the garden of his £640,000 four-bed townhouse and could injure his son Sebastian, aged 3.
Mr Nicoletta, from Sutton, south west London, said: ‘It felt like a witch hunt. They showed no mercy whatsoever.
Mr Nicoletta accused the local authority of a ‘witch hunt’ after a workman trimmed its branches by an extra 14 inches in a bid to save the ‘dying’ tree
‘I just feel utter disbelief that a cash-strapped council, like others up and down the country, couldn’t find a better use of resources than to prosecute a hard-working family like us.
‘There are so many better ways the money could be spent. Sitting in that court like a proper crook was the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life.
‘I was sat there in the defence box where rapists, paedophiles and killers have sat.’
In March 2017 the couple received a letter saying the work had gone above and beyond what was permitted and eight months later were summoned to court.
Luigi, a senior manager at a tax firm, said: ‘We spoke to the council, agreed what could be done and the tree surgeon went ahead with the work. I was happy with it.
‘In March we received a letter from the council saying that they’d checked the work and claimed we went above and beyond what we were allowed to do.
‘We got the letter from the council saying four working days later we were being summoned to Croydon Magistrates’ to answer charges – we were really shocked.
In March 2017 the couple (left) received a letter saying the work (right) had gone above and beyond what was permitted and eight months later were summoned to court
‘We even offered to plant a tree at a place of their choice. They showed us no mercy whatsoever – it was a case of “computer says no”.’
His wife Weronika, 37, said: ‘During a pregnancy you always have to be cautious. We lost our previous baby as I had a stillbirth at six months.’
After appearing at Croydon Magistrates’ in November the pair then appeared at Camberwell Green Magistrates’ on January 29.
They appeared in front of three magistrates and as no evidence was offered by the prosecution the case was dismissed.
Shane Heard was fined £1,250 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £125 and costs of £850.
He said: ‘The council said we could do a five-metre crown lift. That means I’d be leaving stems of the tree with no growth points on them.
‘So really and truly it’s not good practise – we took took 14 inches up more.
‘I explained to the tree officer, if you want you can come out and I’ll and show you that leaving the branches how you wanted them would only encourage the branches to die.’
A Sutton Council spokesman said: ‘The tree in question was planted some 50 years ago and was placed under a Tree Preservation Order in 1980.
‘The tree work undertaken by Mr Nicoletta clearly exceeded the specified consent that was granted.
‘The consequence of this unauthorised work is that it will have a lasting effect on the public amenity value of the tree.’
The couple appeared in front of three magistrates and as no evidence was offered by the prosecution the case was dismissed