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Stately home owner is cleared of causing £3,500 damage

A stately home owner has been cleared of criminal damage after he stripped plants, trees and shrubs from his elderly tenant’s garden without telling him.

Roger Gawn, 70, who owns the historic 17th century Melton Constable Hall in Norfolk, left the garden of Robert Adams looking like a ‘bomb site’, a court heard.

But the court found Mr Gawn, who claims he was treating the spread of Japanese knotweed, not guilty of causing £3,500’s worth of criminal damage.

The property developer removed trees, shrubs and plants belonging to Mr Adams, who has lived in the ground’s Coach House for 46 years.

Roger Gawn (pictured), who owns the historic 17th century Melton Constable Hall in Norfolk, left the garden of Robert Adams looking like a ‘bomb site’, a court heard

Mr Gawn told King’s Lynn Magistrates’ Court that the garden’s potting shed was on the verge of collapse and needed renovating.

He said he dug out surrounding trees and shrubs using a mini digger and intended to replant them in an appropriate place.

Mr Gawn said he had seen treacherous Japanese knotweed growing and if left untreated it would damage other plants and the shed.

His solicitor, Simon Nicholls, told JPs that Japanese knotweed is a ‘pernicious’ plant that can wreak devastating damage.

Mr Gawn added: ‘It takes a minimum of five years to get rid of it. I was really worried about it. I didn’t damage it deliberately. It is gardening at the end of the day.’

Asked why he had not told Mr Adams before carrying out the work, Mr Gawn said: ‘On this occasion I had to deal with a real problem and I had to get on with it.’

Earlier Mr Adams told the court he had not known about the Japanese knotweed until Mr Gawn removed the trees and shrubs.

The devastated pensioner said his garden was left looking like a ‘bomb site’.

Mr Adams, who treasured his garden, said he had not been notified by Mr Gawn about his plans.

‘I created the garden with my then wife. The grass grew and I continued to mow it and it improved.

‘As time went on we created borders which we kept flowers in, we planted trees and things progressed, nothing was done immediately,’ said Mr Adams.

‘More often than not I was complimented by Roger Gawn about how well I kept it.’

On the day in question he said he’d nipped out to the shops for about 20 minutes.

Mr Adams said his garden had been ‘destroyed’ by the time he returned.

He added: ‘There was nothing left in the garden, it looked like a bomb site. The lawn didn’t exist any more.

‘There were holes where the trees had been, there were lumps of earth and craters all over the place.

‘It would have been fair for Mr Gawn to send me a letter to state his intentions.’

But chairman of the bench, Nigel Stringer, said they found Mr Gawn not guilty of criminal damage.

Mr Stringer said: ‘We found Mr Gawn acted in a reasonable manner by removing trees and shrubs to be replanted and he was entitled to do so.

‘There was no criminal intent and we find it unfortunate the tenant was inconvenienced by the work done.’