Public pillories tree destroyer

By Julie Middleton

The Auckland developer who deliberately destroyed a 100-year-old protected pohutukawa endured a verbal roasting last night at an unusual public restorative justice meeting.

George Bernard Shaw faced the anger of a crowd of 60 people - residents, Auckland City staff and councillors and environmental advocates - at the Onehunga Community Centre.

Discussion then turned to possible remedies, which ranged from his property being confiscated for a park to a mature replacement tree being planted.

The saga started a year ago yesterday when two men were seen using chainsaws to reduce the tree, 11m high and with a 14m canopy, to a 1m stump at Shaw's $2.2 million property in Mt Smart Rd, Royal Oak.

Shaw initially denied involvement and claimed he was the victim.

He was convicted in December.

It was his third conviction for destroying a protected tree, the earlier convictions dating from 1996.

Convicting judge Fred McElrea suggested a meeting for victims to vent their feelings and discuss penalties.

Facilitator Deborah Clapshaw said she believed there had never been a restorative meeting with such a wide definition of victim in New Zealand.

Such a meeting was not a "a soft option" for Shaw.

Her report on last night's meeting will now go to Judge McElrea for him to decide a sentence.

Shaw was accompanied by his barrister, Paul Wicks, but refused to talk to journalists. Dressed in casual clothes, his body language subdued but his face expressionless, he heard that his behaviour was "malevolent", "criminal", "cynical", "appalling" and "blatant".

He was "greedy", his actions "financial fascism" and "economic terrorism".

Said a Mt Smart Rd resident: "He is only sorry he got caught."

Those words and mention of a possible jail term brought muted claps and cheers from a generally thoughtful and well-behaved crowd.

David Jones, QC, an Onehunga resident, said he didn't believe Shaw was at all remorseful for his act, which was a "mercenary attempt to line his own pockets".

Marion Bourke, a council compliance officer who worked on the case, said that not only had Shaw's actions drained council resources, but he seemed to think the developers' levies he had paid somehow mitigated his actions.

"Every developer has to pay a financial contribution. Every developer makes a profit."

The real estate agent who sold the land to Shaw, Neville Sceats, said it had been "wasted" until Shaw developed it.

He was shouted down and when Shaw stood to speak, he said the comments were "inappropriate".

His hands shaking slightly, Shaw read handwritten notes in an even voice, saying he wanted to apologise for his "very bad error of judgment ... it was a dumb and stupid decision and if I could turn back the clock I surely would."

Discussions of remedies ranged from Shaw gifting the property as a park - he said his bankers wouldn't allow it - to him replacing the tree with another nature specimen, restricting the development to what would be permitted if the tree was still there, to Shaw working in a native plant nursery.

Most people felt that he should show genuine remorse, and that he should not profit from his actions; the site has plans for 11 apartments. Applause greeted his comment that he was going to get out of developing for "a less stressful life".


What next?

* Tree destroyer George Bernard Shaw will be sentenced at the Auckland District Court on February 13.
* Judge Fred McElrea is expected to take into account the views of the 'victims' who spoke last night.
* Shaw faces a maximum $200,000 fine or two years' jail.

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