An Edinburgh builder who hacked into 100-year-old protected “landmark” tree with a chainsaw and killing it in a fit of “frustration” after council chiefs refused to let him chop it down today avoided a massive fine.
Robert Wilkie twice applied for planning permission to build homes on a piece of land in Kinghorn Road, Burntisland, Fife - but failed after a deluge of objections by neighbours and even the local MSP.
They feared Wilkie’s development would end up killing the towering sycamore - described as a local landmark and an “ancient symbol” of the area.
Fife Council put in place an additional tree preservation order in 2012 to protect the tree, which sat in grounds adjacent to a home owned by Wilkie in Kinghorn Road.
Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court heard Wilkie had sold the land which the tree sits on for £10,000 to his daughter and that she had last year applied for permission to build flats on it.
That application was put in on the same day Wilkie took a chainsaw to the tree.
But on June 16 Wilkie snapped and took a chainsaw to the tree - and was overheard saying he was “tired of people telling him what to do”.
A sheriff told Wilkie he could face a fine of up to £20,000 over the incident - but instead fined him just £400 after hearing Wilkie had recently been made bankrupt.
Neighbours called in Fife Council who carried out an assessment and reported that two rings had been cut around the tree’s circumference.
That deprived the tree of sap - killing it and meaning it had to be cut down for safety reasons.
A sheriff branded Wilkie’s destruction a “disgrace” - and said he had to be convinced that Wilkie wouldn’t financially benefit from the tree being cut down before he could pass sentence.
Wilkie, 59, of Bangholm Terrace, Edinburgh, pleaded guilty wilfully damaging the tree contrary to a tree preservation order on June 16 last year.
Nigel Cooke, defending, said: “He doesn’t accept there will be any financial benefit to cutting the tree down.
“He sold the land to his daughter and it’s not currently capable of development.
“His position is he was furstrated because he considered the three was potentially damaging his property adjacent to it.
“He will replace the tree.
“He was in the building industry but was hit by the downturn and now works as a building surveyor and consultant.
“He has been sequestrated recently.”
Sheriff James Williamson fined Wilkie £400 and said: “He has effectively destroyed a tree that was a local landmark.
“It’s quite shocking behaviour.
“He hacked into a tree with sufficient force to kill it.
“The penalty is limited to a financial penalty of up to £20,000.
“I can’t help but feel he has contrived this situation between the transfer of the property to his daughter then the sequestration.
“He now finds himself here with limited financial circumstances which I have to consider.
“I think this is just an absolute disgraceful piece of behaviour.
“He took a chainsaw to a tree which he had no permission to do - it is outrageous.”