The boss of a housebuilding company and his firm have failed to overturn their convictions for felling an historic Redwood tree.
Enzo's Homes Ltd and its owner and director Fiorenzo Sauro were found guilty of felling the landmark tree near Swansea's
Penllergaer Valley Woods in November 2018, and ordered to pay a large fine.
Sauro and his firm appealed against their convictions and sentences for destroying the Redwood, and for clearing an area of ancient woodland..
On Friday a judge at Swansea Crown Court rejected their appeal against the Redwood convictions, but upheld their appeal so far as the woodland - which encompassed 72 trees - was concerned.
The man who actually wielded the chainsaw - tree surgeon Arwyn Morgan - also appealed, not against his conviction but the level of his fine. Morgan was initially fined a total of £120,000 but that was overturned, and a fine of £4,000 imposed instead.
The case revolves around the clearing of a patch of woodland next to the site of the former Lliw Valley Council headquarters near Penllergaer north of Swansea.
Carmarthenshire-based Enzo's Home bought the old council buildings on the edge of the
Penllergaer Valley Woods beauty spot from Swansea Council to redevelop into a housing estate called Mansion Gardens.
On the morning of November 28, 2018, members of the public contacted the council and the local councillor to say a Giant Redwood tree on land next to the building site was being felled.
When council officers and staff from Natural Resources Wales got to the site they found ancient woodland covering an area the size of more than four tennis courts had been destroyed - the trees felled and the top soil removed - and the prominent Redwood reduced to a stump. All had been subject to tree preservation orders.
The following year Enzo's Homes and Sauro were convicted after trial at Swansea Magistrates Court and fined a total of £300,000. Tree contractor Morgan was fined £120,000 after pleading guilty.
As Sauro left the court at the end of the hearing he said "see you in Crown court", indicating he would be appealing the judge's decision.
That appeal hearing started in January this year in front of judge Christopher Vosper QC.
Over the course of numerous hearings and in written submissions Sauro's barrister argued there was no evidence that the tree surgeon had been instructed to fell the Redwood, and that there there would have been "no possible benefit" to chopping down a protected tree. Adam Vaitilingam QC submitted it would have been an act of "supremely folly" to cut down the tree, one that the company could never have gotten away with, and one which would have brought very serious consequences.
Jonathan Rees QC, for the respondents, told the court it was "no accident" that the Redwood had been felled, and it had been cut down under direction. He said it was claimed it would have been a foolish act on the part of Sauro to axe the prominent tree but it might be that he had gambled he could evade liability by claiming it was an accident or by blaming third-party contractors.
After considering detailed oral and written submission from both parties over the last nine months the judge, sitting in appeal with two magistrates, delivered his verdict.
The court rejected the appeal against conviction for felling the Redwood for both the company and
Judge Clee said Sauro had failed to follow a tree protection plan, and failed to appoint a specialist to oversee the felling as he had been advised to do. He said it was also clear the site manager employed by Enzo's Homes, Carl Anderson, did not have proper regard to the tree preservation orders and tree preservation plan. The judge said he was satisfied on the evidence he had heard that there was no financial advantage to felling the trees but they had been destroyed not due to a mistake but due to negligence on the part of Sauro and Mr Anderson, what the judge referred to as a "couldn't care less attitude".
The court did, however, allow the appeal by both Enzo's Homes and Sauro against their convictions - and therefore their sentences - for felling the area of ancient woodland around the Redwood.
The judge said as it had been determined that there was no financial motivation for the felling the court would allow the appeal against sentence for the Redwood convictions - both the firm and Sauro were instead fined £50,000 each, and were given 18 months to pay. The £7,500 costs imposed on the firm from the magistrates court was allowed to stand, and it will also have to pay an additional £25,000 in costs for the partially-successful appeal.
The court then turned the to appeal against the £120,000 fine imposed on tree surgeon Morgan. The judge told Morgan - an experienced tree surgeon - that he should have consulted the tree preservation orders for himself prior to beginning felling work. He said a significant fine was still justified but now it had been determined there was no financial advantage to the clearing of the tress the fine originally imposed by the district judge in the magistrates court was not appropriate, and he allowed the appeal. Taking into account Morgan's income the judge fined him £4,000 and said the original costs of £2,000 would stand. He said as the appellant had won his appeal there would no costs imposed.
Swansea Council welcomed the court's decision.
The local authority's environment cabinet member Mark Thomas said: "Swansea Council was determined from the outset to take the strongest possible action to ensure those responsible for felling the trees were held accountable for their actions.
"The council conducted a thorough investigation that took a number of months to complete and we have secured the result we have seen today in relation to the appeal against conviction about the Redwood tree.
"In our view this was never a victimless crime. The felled tree was part of the heritage of this area of Swansea and one of the first of its kind to be planted in the city. The decision to prosecute was not taken lightly and while it's disappointing some of the convictions were not upheld, the appeal decision and the sentencing should serve as a warning to others."