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Defendants unmasked in court face cost of damage for allegedly felling famous 150-year-old tree

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LONDON (AP) — Two men accused of cutting down the majestic Sycamore Gap tree concealed their faces from cameras as they arrived at court Wednesday but inside the courtroom they couldn’t hide from the cost of the damage they allegedly caused.

A prosecutor said the value of the roughly 150-year-old beloved tree that was toppled onto Hadrian’s Wall in northern England last year exceeded 620,000 pounds ($785,000).

“This is a case that will be instantly recognizable to you, indeed anyone hearing the charges read out,” prosecutor Rebecca Brown said in Newcastle Magistrates’ Court. “The prosecution say the tree was deliberately felled on Sept. 28 last year and the resultant fall damaged Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The prosecution say these defendants are responsible as part of a joint enterprise.”

Daniel Graham and Adam Carruthers were each charged with two counts of criminal damage. One count is for allegedly cutting down the tree and the second is for damage to the adjacent wall built by Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 122 to protect the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire.

The sycamore’s regal canopy framed between two hills made it a popular subject for landscape photographers. It became a destination on the path along the wall after being featured in Kevin Costner’s 1991 film “Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves.”

The nighttime felling on Sept. 28 caused widespread outrage as police tried to find the culprits behind what they called a deliberate act of vandalism.

Graham, 38, pleaded not guilty. Carruthers, 31, did not enter a plea.

The two wore suits and black masks when they arrived and left court. Graham wore a balaclava and aviator sunglasses and Carruthers had a black stocking pulled over his head.

Inside court, though, they had to remove their head coverings as Brown gave a detailed accounting — down to the pound — of the alleged damage they caused and how it was calculated.

The prosecutor said the tree was evaluated using a tool to calculate the cost of replacing a significant public tree that considers its size, the quality of its crown and canopy, and the number of people who could visit it.

Prosecutors also took into account the “serious distress” and economic consequences and social damage, Brown said.

Damage to the wall was assessed at more than 1,100 pounds ($1,400).

Brown said the case was complex due to the lengths investigators went, including consulting botanists, and using analysis from cell phone towers and license plate recognition technology.

District Judge Zoe Passfield said the case was “too serious” for the magistrates’ court and the next hearing was scheduled June 12 in Newcastle Crown Court.

Both men were released on bail.

By BRIAN MELLEY
Associated Press

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