Tree feller chasing council for compo

A tree feller lumbered with hefty legal fees after fighting charges laid by Kapiti Coast District Council believes there was a witch-hunt against him and wants compensation.

The council laid charges against Monkeyman Tree Services on Christmas Eve last year, relating to the felling of native trees on two properties in Otaki.

It withdrew them six months later after withdrawing similar charges against the elderly property owners.

The council commissioned a $15,000 independent report by Wellington QC Richard Fowler, published this week, which found the prosecutions of the property owners were "inappropriate".

Fowler said the council went through an "ad hoc" form of assessment, and approval of the decision to prosecute "fell short of what was needed".

Only scant explanations were obtained from the couples, and nothing at all from Monkeyman, owned by tree surgeon Craig Eddie.

"The suggestion appears to have been conveyed to the council chief executive after a council briefing that it was necessary to prosecute the landowners in order to prosecute the contractor."

However, Fowler said the charges against Monkeyman were "entirely justifiable" because, as a skilled contractor, Eddie would have been familiar with council rules, or willing to ascertain them.

Eddie addressed a council meeting yesterday, at which he said he and his family had suffered huge emotional and financial costs in defending the unsubstantiated charges.

He said a media report had quoted the council as saying it had prosecuted the property owners in order to take on the contractor.

"Mr Fowler points out this was totally incorrect in law. This raises the question, was there a witch-hunt initiated with no subsequent accountability or transparency?"

After the meeting, Eddie told The Dominion Post: "It was a witch-hunt. It is still a witch-hunt."

He presented a letter from his solicitor saying "misleading representation [the council first publicly stated there were 72 trees involved, but the summary of facts stated seven] was hugely distressing to Eddie and harmful to his business".

The letter advised the council that Eddie was seeking $35,000 as full and final settlement.

Kapiti Mayor Ross Church said the council would not comment as it was a legal matter.

The Dominion Post