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Homeowner Faces £40K Proceeds of Crime Order For Damaging Tree

Homeowner Faces £40K Proceeds of Crime Order For Damaging Tree

A homeowner who “virtually destroyed” a protected oak tree because it blocked sunlight has been ordered to pay out nearly £40,000 in the first case of its kind.

The court found that Samuel Wilson damaged the tree in his back garden by cutting its 12ft-long branches, after he found that they cast shade on his newly built balcony. The 42ft oak tree was subject to a preservation order, meaning that the homeowner would have needed permission from the local authority to cut it.

Through use of the proceeds of crime order, Mr. Wilson was instructed to reimburse the taxpayer £21,000 – the amount his illegal conduct had added to the value of his home. He was also fined £1,200 and ordered to pay £15,000 in costs at Bournemouth Crown Court. The case is thought to be the first to deal with a defendant under the Proceeds of Crime Act for an offence involving damaging a tree. Proceeds of crime orders (PCOs) are normally used to recover the profits of high-value crimes from serious criminals convicted of money-laundering, fraud, and other serious offences.

£2.2bn seized under PCOs since 2002

Speaking on the verdict of the case, Poole Borough Council’s enforcement team manager Andy Dearing praised the original use of the recovery order for significantly upping the amount of money that Mr. Wilson could be ordered to pay.

“We are not aware of any other case in the UK where there has been a proceeds of crime case based on the benefit of improved light to a property from the destruction of a tree,” he said, adding:

“The maximum fine would have been £2,500, but the Proceeds of Crime Act took the matter to another level, because it looked at the benefit of that criminal activity and we said it was to gain an increase of between £21,000 to £30,000 in the value of his property.”

Recovery orders were introduced by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, with official statistics last year stating that £2.2bn had been seized from criminals under the legislation since its enactment. According to government data, the orders were used to collect £150m on average annually over the past six years, with £144m collected last year and £207m collected in 2016.

The orders aim to deter and tackle high-value crime more effectively, with security minister Ben Wallace summarising the measure’s message to criminals as:

“When we get to you we will come for you, for your assets and we will make the environment that you live in difficult.”

New account freezing orders used this year

The effects of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in allowing courts to seize cash that is suspected to be derived from criminal activity has been reinforced recently with the introduction of the Criminal Finances Act 2017.

The Criminal Finances Act introduced a range of new powers and tools for seizing the suspected profits of crime, including Unexplained Wealth Orders, Account Freezing Orders and Account Forfeiture Orders. These changes allow the authorities to freeze suspicious bank accounts, order those in possession of unexplained fortunes to prove that their wealth comes from a legitimate source, and ultimately order a forfeiture of bank assets as well as cash.

In February, the National Crime Agency announced that it had used account freezing orders for the first time, to seize over £400,000 from three UK bank accounts. Three weeks later, the National Economic Crime Centre applied to use account freezing orders to freeze 95 student bank accounts suspected of being used for money laundering.

Meanwhile in March, the Serious Fraud Office used an account freezing order to secure a recovery of over £1.5m from the bank account of an individual convicted of fraud.

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