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Ben Hill is a reporter for The New Zealand Herald

Auckland couple at war with neighbours over peach tree

Hiring a contractor to cut down a tree is standard household business - except when the tree is in your neighbour's garden.

Police agree with Flat Bush couple Iris and Chao Chang that their neighbours hired an arborist to cut down their 4.5m tall peach tree without their permission, but say there is not enough evidence or public interest to prosecute for wilful damage.

The Changs say they feel let down that they cannot get justice for their damaged property, and the situation has left them $2000 out of pocket, stressed and upset.

"We are very, very upset," said Mrs Chang. "We have been left with a stump and a broken heart."

The couple live in south-east Auckland.

The Changs take pride in their trees, and were especially fond of their large Golden Peach tree which bore "delicious, sweet" fruit in the summer.

Last year, Chang gave permission for the neighbours to trim the leaves and branches that hung over their fence, but in June discovered the nine-year-old tree had been felled and just a stump remained.

But, his neighbour, who does not want to be named, said he hired a contractor to cut only a branch of the tree that was encroaching over the fence onto his property.

He said he asked the contractor to cut the branch from his side of the fence, but they cut it from the other side.

He believes the liability for the tree-cutting lies with the company.

The neighbour also says the tree is still in tact, and that only a branch has been cut.

The contractor did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

NZ Herald Focus reporter Tristram Clayton, who visited the property, said the main peach tree was completely cut down to the ground.

He said there was a "secondary, spindly" tree that emerges beside the stump, but that it was so thin that it was "not really worth considering a tree".

Chang said he confronted his neighbour and his wife confronted his neighbour's father on separate occasions and both men admitted they had hired a contractor to fell the tree.

Chang said he made a covert recording of the conversation, which was in Mandarin, and used it to lay a complaint with police.

Police responded to the incident and made some enquiries.

In correspondence with the Changs, a police officer said: "I am in agreeance [sic] with the complainant that the damage to the tree was caused at the directions of the suspect.

The remaining stump from a Golden Peach Tree. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The remaining stump from a Golden Peach Tree. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"However due to his denial a [warning] cannot be issued. Advised complainant to seek redress through civil routes should he wish to pursue further."

Mr Chang said the couple were very distressed by the finding, as they wanted justice for their property damage.

"The tree cutter came to apologise to me after the police contacted him. We were trusting the police, and expecting the police to conduct a solid investigation to such a simple case to give us a fair result.

"They assigned police to investigate, how come the outcome turn out to be like that, with no solutions?"

When contacted by the Herald, a police spokeswoman said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the case.

"The contractor's refusal to make a statement impacts on the available evidence. What Police 'believe' is not relevant.

"The issue is whether the actions are criminal and whether there is evidence available which would provide a reasonable prospect of conviction as stated in the [Solicitor-General's Prosecution] Guidelines."

The guidelines state that a criminal charge can be filed only if a test for prosecution can be met.

"The primary purpose of the civil law on the other hand is to provide a mechanism for solving disputes between individual people," she said.

The neighbour anticipates that the case will eventually go to court, and told the Herald he is prepared to take that action himself.​​

- NZ Herald

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