Police Throw Ex-Colleague in Cells for Poisoning Their Hedge; Curse of Leylandii Strikes Again as Ex-Inspector Arrested in Border Dispute Demands Inquiry

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A DISPUTE between two neighbours over a leylandii hedge should have been easy to resolve - after all, one was a retired police inspector and the other a serving sergeant with the same force.

But it ended with former Inspector John Walters being thrown into a police cell charged with poisoning the trees, an accusation that has now been dropped.

And he claims in an official complaint to the Chief Constable of Surrey that while he was held in custody for seven hours, police broke numerous rules of procedure, including searching his home without his permission.

The astonishing saga began when Sergeant Simon Moxon planted ten of the conifers - so controversial that they were last week the subject of Government proposals on how to settle disputes - for privacy at his Woking home bordering on Mr Walters's garden.

Words were exchanged but, after the police authority which owns Sergeant Moxon's house intervened, it was agreed that the trees, which can grow up to 100ft, would be kept down to 6ft high.

But then the hedge wilted and died and the next Mr Walters knew was when he opened his door to two police officers at 9.30 one morning and was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage.

'I couldn't believe what was happening,' said Mr Walters, who retired in 1998 after 27 years' service, during which he won a number of awards including a Chief Constable's commendation for disarming two men in the street. 'I pointed out that if they had wanted to question me I could call in to the station 500 yards away with my solicitor.

'But instead they drove me ten miles to the police station at Staines, where I had to hand over my belt, my shoes and my personal belongings before being locked up.' Mr Walters also found the affair had been treated as a top crime, with a police photographer recording the state of the trees and soil samples being taken because Sgt Moxon had said he could smell white spirit in the ground. 'The whole thing was completely over the top and out of control,' Mr Walters said yesterday. …