A MALICIOUS tip-off sparked an unsuccessful attempt to place a tree protection order on two trees that were never under threat.

City councillors on the planning committee have, unusually, rejected the confirmation of the TPO for two western red cedars in a back garden on Compton Down.

Tree owner Una Stevens, of Cliff Way, told the committee the garden and the trees were the second most important things in her life after her grandchildren.

City council tree officers placed a temporary order on the trees last November after being tipped off by phone and email that the trees were in danger.

When it emerged they were not under threat the officers still wanted the TPO because of the trees' value, the planning committee heard.

But the committee disagreed and voted by four to two not to confirm the order, believing it would be wrong to impose the financial burden of the TPO from the roots of a malicious tip-off.

Today the city council confirmed they know the identity of the person who gave them the false information. A spokewoman said: "We can confirm that Winchester City Council is aware of this case and the identity of all parties involved."

Mrs Stevens, of Cliff Way, told the committee that the episode had been deeply upsetting. "It was with total shock that we received the TPO. No planning application has ever been submitted in the 34 years we have lived here and there never will be one in our lifetimes.

"We are not tree killers, we are here to preserve our garden. Our garden, apart from our grandchildren, the most important thing in our lives. It is difficult to feel it is not a personal attack when the reason (for the TPO) is untrue."

Tree officer Ivan Gurdler said the tip-off was the trigger to act, but that the trees were subsequently deemed worthy of a TPO. The identity of the informant has not been publicly revealed.

Committee chairman Therese Evans said she was sorry Mr and Mrs Stevens were upset but that they should not view a TPO as a personal attack on them.

Cllr David McLean it would be "deeply unfair" to impose the financial burden of a TPO on Mr and Mrs Stevens.

The four councillors to oppose the TPO were Cllrs Russell Gordon-Smith, McLean, Lawrence Ruffell and Roger Bentote. The chairman and vice chairmen Therese Evans and Angela Clear supported it.

Afterwards Mrs Stevens told the Chronicle the TPO process should be reformed: "We regard this episode as an absolute disgrace. Eventually, the action to 'confirm' (not 'consider'), the TPO appeared as an item on the planning committee agenda. The entire process seems to be about confirming the Order, the concept of subjecting the assertion to scrutiny seems absent.

"These features of the process leave it wide open to abuse by malicious parties. We believe we are the victims of such abuse by a neighbour. Despite the happy outcome, the malefactor will be pleased. He has subjected us to three months of stress, a heavy workload, and not inconsiderable expense.

"Once the Council allows itself to become involved in a neighbour's grudge against another, it is not only putting its statutory procedures in jeopardy, but is effectively sponsoring a charter for malicious neighbours, who can, so easily, throw truth to the four winds."

Mrs Stevens added: "Put quite simply, this whole sorry saga should never have been allowed to happen. Looking to the future, we shall do all in our power to prevent its recurrence. It is with this aim that we shall be requesting a review of the manner in which TPOs are handled locally with the leader of the city council, and, if necessary, at national level."