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Vindicated: Council U-turn over trees

Last updated 05:00 04/04/2014
Diana and Peter Standen

STANDING PROUD: Diana and Peter Standen in front of the bush they were accused of illegally trimming.

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Kapiti Coast District Council is proceeding with legal action against a contractor who felled native trees, but is planning to withdraw charges against an elderly couple who employed him to carry out the work.

Monkeyman Tree Services trimmed and felled trees for Peter Standen, 77, and his wife Diana, 74, of Otaki last year. 

The council charged the elderly couple for "modifying naturally occurring indigenous vegetation."

This week the council decided to seek court approval to withdraw charges against the Standens but say prosecution against Monkeyman Services, who carried out the work will proceed.

The Standen's neighbours Keith and Lorraine McLeavey also had work carried out and have pleaded guilty to the charge and will be sentenced in court next month. 

Craig Eddie, of Monkeyman Services, has pleaded not guilty. 

The Standens and Craig Eddie are scheduled to appear in Levin District Court next week. 

The council said the court will be asked to ratify the withdrawal of charges against the Standens. 

The council said they were reluctant to comment further while the matter was before the court.

Levin District Court will be formally asked to ratify the withdrawal of charges when the couple's case is called on Tuesday.

The pair, of Oriwa Cres, Otaki, said last night that they were relieved by the council's decision.

"We are delighted," Peter Standen said. "We will be glad when Tuesday's court appearance is over and we can put all this behind us."

They pleaded not guilty to charges of breaching the District Plan by "modifying naturally occurring indigenous vegetation". The maximum penalty for a conviction is two years' imprisonment or a fine of $300,000.

The couple were charged with felling and trimming three kohekohe, three tawa and a mahoe in what they called "a mass of tangled and broken branches, dead, diseased and dangerous trees" in a stand of bush.

They employed arborist Craig Eddie, of Monkeyman Tree Services, to do the work, which they believed complied with regulations set out in a council brochure.

However, the council told them to stop work in November as legal action was being considered.

The council said yesterday that it was "unaware of a number of facts" when deciding to prosecute, including the fact the couple followed guidelines in a council brochure.

"It was unfortunate we were not able to corroborate this information until now," a council statement said.

"We have now been able to substantiate the Standens' claim in respect to the brochure by talking to Monkeyman, who confirmed that they were shown a copy of the KCDC brochure at the time they were instructed to undertake the trimming . . .

"If we had been aware of this information at the time we were determining whether or not to lay charges . . . this would have been a very relevant consideration."

The Standens, who bought their property with its stand of native bush last year, belong to Keep Otaki Beautiful and Friends of the Otaki River.

Diana Standen devotes a morning a week to creating and maintaining Pareomatangi Reserve in the town.

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They said when they were first charged: "We love native bush . . . we would never dream of damaging it."

Mayor Ross Church said last night that the case had involved a huge amount of work, and further information had made the matter clearer.

"If we had found out about the information earlier, things would have been different months ago . . . we had to make a sensible decision based on the [corroborated] information."

- The Dominion Post

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