A landlord who chopped down four protected trees in Chislehurst to make way for a swimming pool and jacuzzi at her multi-million pound home has paid out £11,000 in fines and costs.

Merle Joseph, 55, was fined £4,154 and ordered to hand over £6,677 in costs for uprooting two sycamore trees, a pine and a horse chestnut tree at her palatial house on a luxury private estate.

The community worker, who previously worked as a psychiatric nurse, purchased the property for £1.55 million in 2007.

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She was sentenced at Bexley Magistrates’ Court yesterday (WED) after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to uprooting the trees in August 2017.

The magnificent trees were located in Joseph's garden, which is nestled within a conservation area, and were protected by Bromley Council.

Joseph told the court she did not realise she did not have permission to remove the trees, and that she has since replaced them with nursery trees.

But the prosecution argued on behalf of the council that the replacement trees were "not the same" and will not reach the same amenity value for decades.

Laura Phillips, prosecuting, said: "The trees have now been replaced.

"Replacement trees are not the same as the original trees which were well established and of much greater amenity value than the nursery trees that replaced them.

“It will take decades rather than years for them to reach the same amenity value."

She added: "The bottom line is that very valuable trees were destroyed."

Joseph told the court she was a landlord but not a developer and that she built her mini empire by buying properties in Brixton and Stratford when these areas were deemed undesirable.

She said while she has carried out minor renovations at some of her 18 properties, such as kitchen and bathroom fittings, the pool house was her first development project.

While Joseph admitted removing the trees, the dispute between her and the council was over whether or not she believed that she was entitled to do so under planning regulations.

Prosecutors said a tree officer told Joseph that she would need permission from Bromley Council to chop them down but that she did so without notifying or gaining the necessary approval.

The development, which includes a jacuzzi, pool house and swimming pool, was originally close to the house’s boundary, so it was eventually moved.

But in doing so, one of the protected trees blocked it from view and it was subsequently cut down.

Ms Phillips said: “It is accepted by the council that Ms Joseph was not required to get planning permission but she was required to give notice to the council so they could consent to the trees being felled.

"There was profit from the offending albeit that was not the motive. The property is now nicer because it has a summerhouse and a pool house with a jacuzzi."

Joseph insisted while she was told to move her building away from the boundary, the council did not refer to any trees.

Addressing magistrates, she told the court she thought she had permission to remove them and that the council did not tell her otherwise, even when she asked them for recommended tree surgeons to carry out the work.

The yoga teacher added that she built the summer house not for financial gain but for her family to enjoy including her disabled mum and that she was "deeply sorry".

She said: "It was not my intention to cut down the trees to make a development. It was with a very heavy heart that I removed them, it was not done lightly.

“I started out as a psychiatric nurse and I am by no means a property developer.

“I made a mistake. I love the trees, they are still in my garden. There was no intention to do this and to harm anything.

“I live with my mum and my children and the home is very important to us.

“I was hoping that summer house would be of some importance to my mum. She is disabled so she is not able to go far. I still am deeply sorry of having to cut down the trees.”

Joseph told the court her monthly income totalled around £8,000 compared to her £7,500 out-goings which included her £4,500 mortgage and her children’s school fees.

But magistrates ruled that she must pay £1,000 per month so that the total balance is settled within 12 months.

Chair of the bench Nigel Barnes told her: “The total fine is £11,021.88. This is including a £4,154 fine, a £190 surcharge and £6,677.88 costs.”