Pensioner hijacks digger for four hours in protest against tree-cutting council

A disabled pensioner who hijacked a digger and refused to leave for four hours says they did so in protest against a local council he claims was killing trees.

Defiant protestor Lea Awbery, 66, took action when he saw contractors digging up the roots of nearby cherry trees.

Removal of the trees near a playground in Reading, Berkshire, moved Awbery to action, who believes the trees were intentionally killed during a resurfacing process so a proposed café entrance could be built.

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The controversial proposal has split the village, and also apparently killed a few trees as the council began digging up the area.

Protestor Awbery said: "The trees will not be able to survive the damage [the parish council] have done. Somebody has got to make a stand for the village and the trees.

"It’s as simple as that and that’s why I am sat on this digger. My roots are here, unlike these tree roots which are not connected to the trees anymore."

Awbery, a tree surgeon of 35 years who suffers from lung disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes and hyperglycaemia, has lived in the village of Burghfield for over 20 years.

His family's roots in the village date back to the 12th century, with the pensioner's protest taking aim at the tree-cutting council and proposed café.

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Slamming the council, Awbery said: "They want to put a café on the green so they don’t have to pay rates or rent and they get a cheap pub in the village."

Those objecting to the café build have claimed it is a Trojan Horse plot to plant a pub on the recreational ground where the cherry trees once were.

Mr Awbery clambered onto a digger at 1:30pm and refused several requests from police to exit the vehicle at 4:05pm, demanding the council put in writing that they would promise to replant the trees if they died.

Parish Council Chairman Tim Ansell said that the incident was "quite sad to be honest."

Chairman Ansell added: "He’d already phoned up the clerk and hurled abuse at her this morning, which is unforgivable and there is no reason for that.

"It’s sad and depressing that people get it in their minds that this is the way to do it."

The chairman also cited the split over the planned café as "very sad" and that the division was caused by "a minority who have been spreading untruths."

Awbery's protest came to an end at 5pm as he needed to return home to take some medication.

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