Friday 5 August 2022 10:07 PM Stately homeowner who claims trees were chopped down blocks view of pensioner ... trends now
Maxine Turner's three-bedroom bungalow on a quiet cul-de-sac in Norfolk is a modest 1960s build, her cream, ceramic-tiled floor and blue, floral sofa unlikely to win any interior design awards.
What marks, or rather marked, the property as special is — was — the view.
It backs on to the 2,000-acre estate of her millionaire neighbour, Stephen Bett, and for the past 38 years Maxine enjoyed her morning cup of lemon tea watching the sight of hares and horses capering across the glorious parkland meadow at the bottom of her garden.
Not any more, however. Now, the frail 78-year-old widow, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and a degenerative eye condition, is treated not to a panoramic vista through her French windows, but the ugly sight of 37 hay bales, stacked 8 ft tall in front of her back garden and stretching 60 ft across almost its entire width.
'The house is all about the view, that was a pleasure to my mother,' says Maxine Turner's (right) son, John Turner (left), 50, who acts as his mother's live-in carer during the week
The view of bales that can be seen from Maxine Turners garden in Thornham Norfolk
'To put those hay bales there was an act of spite,' Mr Turner added
John Turner (left) who lives with his mother Maxine Turner, 78, as her carer, said she has been deprived of the view she previously had of the horses in wealthy landowner and former Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett's (right) parkland meadow in front of his 18th century mansion
The gargantuan barricade marks the latest instalment in a neighbourhood squabble that to outsiders may seem farcical, but for those on opposing sides of the hay-bale wall, feelings are very real and raw.
'The house is all about the view, that was a pleasure to my mother,' says Maxine's son, John, 50, who acts as his mother's live-in carer during the week. 'To put those hay bales there was an act of spite.'
From the other side of the haystack, Stephen Bett, a former Conservative councillor and Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner from 2012 to 2016, is resolute.
'Mr Turner has no right to a view,' he says. 'It's on our property. He thinks he is entitled to a view, but he is not. To be honest, I don't particularly want to see these people in their gardens, barbecuing and putting their washing out. Why should I have to look at what they are doing? Their privacy doesn't seem to interest them — but I prefer my own privacy.'
What's central to this argument is not the gigantic hay bales, but rather a row of conifers, which mysteriously vanished last month in an act of village vandalism.
Around three years ago, Stephen, a 69-year-old married father of three, planted a row of conifers along six of the properties that border the family's estate in the genteel village of Thornham.
A satellite image showing the location of Mr Bett's Norfolk estate and home, Thornham Hall, and the location of his elderly neighbour Maxine Turner's bungalow - which has had the view of his 'hundreds of acres of meadows' blocked by the hay wall
Now, the frail 78-year-old widow Mrs Turner (right), who suffers from multiple sclerosis and a degenerative eye condition, is treated not to a panoramic vista through her French windows, but the ugly sight of 37 hay bales, stacked 8 ft tall in front of her back garden and stretching 60 ft across almost its entire width
'Mr Turner (pictured) has no right to a view,' Mr Bett says. 'It's on our property. He thinks he is entitled to a view, but he is not. To be honest, I don't particularly want to see these people in their gardens, barbecuing and putting their washing out. Why should I have to look at what they are doing? Their privacy doesn't seem to interest them — but I prefer my own privacy'
The saplings grew into 10 ft-tall trees, and his mission was accomplished — his privacy was established. Until last month, that is, when the conifers across Maxine's border, her two adjacent neighbours' properties and part of the two neighbours' borders next to them, were mysteriously hacked down overnight. The culprit left no clues and the police told Bett they were powerless to investigate.
If Stephen believed John or his mother responsible, he did not say so. What he did do, however, was stack two rows of hay bales vertically, slap bang in front of Maxine's home — and only Maxine's home.
An infuriated John, who fiercely denies cutting Bett's trees down, pushed the top row of bales over in a temper. Not to be outdone, Stephen used a digger to manoeuvre the bales back, but horizontally, so that they cannot be moved.
And so the story of the wealthy landowner, his hay bales, and the blocked view began to make headlines as far afield as Australia.
While Stephen has the law on his side, and his conifers are clearly victims of a crime, many believe his behaviour petulant and his response disproportionate, while others are asking: who on earth did cut down those trees?
John, a part-time gardener, swears blind that, although he was annoyed the conifers obscured his mother's view, he didn't sneak out in the dark to hack them down. 'I've never broken the law. I didn't cut down his trees. I'm not that sort of person,' he says. He insists he is a 'fragile' man who suffered a breakdown after his father Frank died of Covid in January last year, aged 89, and whose depression has returned as a result of the unedifying saga.
'I'm upset for my mother more than myself. I'm a bundle of nerves. I was in Tesco thinking 'These people are looking at me and judging me.' This morning I was in tears mowing the lawn.'
Talking in Maxine's living room, the hay bales backlighting his head are a constant reminder of the war waging between him and the upper-crust neighbour over the field.
When Maxine and Frank bought their bungalow in 1984, Bett's 18th-century mansion was owned by Stephen's father, Henry, and when the couple asked him, a few years later, if they could replace the 4 ft-high hawthorn hedge that bordered their land with a 2 ft box hedge, Maxine, diagnosed with MS in her 20s, says Henry agreed. 'He said, 'Yes, you've got a lovely view – why not enjoy it?' ' she recalls.
As years passed, the families shared a camaraderie that continued after Stephen took over the estate when his father died, around the year 2000.
As a little boy, Stephen's son, Henry, who's now 33 and