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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Landowner's £900,000 bill for damaging north Cumbria conservation site

A multi-millionaire businessman has been ordered to pay nearly £1 million after trying to “shield himself from blame” for allowing an ancient part of protected woodland to be damaged.

Philip Day photo
Philip Day

Related: Crown court judge dons walking boots for site visit in woodland case

Philip Day, the Cumbria-based owner of Edinburgh Woollen Mill, has vowed to appeal the £450,000 fine handed to him at Carlisle Crown Court.

Day, 46, of Corby Hill, Carlisle, was also ordered to pay the entire prosecution costs totalling more than £457,000 following a series of complex court hearings dating back more than a year.

Day, who the court heard has a personal fortune of around £300m, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to causing trees to be felled and a track to be cut on part of land on the Hayton Estate, near Brampton, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), in November 2010.

The case was brought by Natural England.

Day had argued that he neither knew about nor authorised the work which caused the damage.

Day, in his basis of plea, claimed the work had been carried out by Marc Gardner, who he said was the estate’s self-employed gamekeeper.

In his lengthy sentencing ruling, Judge Peter Hughes QC, referred to the sequence of events from July 2010, when Day’s conveyancing solicitors knew that part of the land was within an SSSI, he said, to when the damage was caused.

Judge Hughes described how Day’s purchase of the land aroused “considerable local interest and concern”.

He referred to evidence from several local residents who were concerned about the work being carried out and took photos of the site.

But at a parish council meeting in mid November 2010, Day’s solicitors warned that anyone caught recording videos or photographing his land would face legal action, the court heard.

Judge Hughes concluded that Mr Gardner was a “wholly unconvincing witness...prepared to tailor his evidence to suit his own purpose and that of Philip Day”.

He rejected claims that Mr Gardner was simply a gamekeeper and pointed to evidence that he was in fact acting as the estate manager due to his knowledge of shooting as Day wanted to create a commercial shooting business on the land.

He ruled that Day had used Mr Gardner to “take the blame for him”.

He also described Day’s threats of legal action to local residents as “intimidating tactics”.

Judge Hughes told Day: “You set out to use your power and wealth to avoid responsibility – with wealth comes responsibility and you need to learn this lesson.”

Janette Ward, Natural England’s regulation director, said afterwards: “Legal action is always regrettable and we were disappointed that a woodland of such ecological importance and one that was very special to the local community, was so severely damaged.

“We work with landowners across the country to ensure that such special areas of our natural heritage can be protected.

“We welcome the fact that Mr Day has undertaken a programme of voluntary restoration and hope that he will now work with us to manage this special area more appropriately in the future.”

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