BLUNDERING council officials threatened a pensioner with legal action over a tree... owned by the council.

Marcia Hasler, 76, received the letter on the day she returned from two weeks in hospital for emergency heart surgery.

She said the shock could have given her a heart attack.

Brighton and Hove City Council said the tree was blocking the pavement and ordered Mrs Hasler to take action within 14 days.

It later apologised after discovering it was a council tree – but a month later it has still not pruned it.

Mrs Hasler said the council approach was threatening and upsetting.

She said: “It put me under so much stress when I opened the letter

“I think it’s a threatening letter. I didn’t know whether to ring the council or the court.

“I called the council and they said it wasn’t threatening, but what is it then, telling me I’m going to go to court?

“I’ve had a clean record all my life and now they’re saying I’ve got to go to court.”

“I’d just come out of hospital, it was a terribly bad shock. I was so worried. It could have given me a heart attack.”

Her husband Dave, 71, said: “The first letter could just have said ‘We’ve been informed there’s an overhanging tree, could you please trim it back.’

“If it was our tree we wouldn’t have let it get to that, but if it was that would have been fine.

“Marcia was ever so upset when she got the letter, I’m pleased I was here.”

The letter, signed by highway enforcement officer Gail Barnett, begins: “It has been brought to our attention that vegetation that appears to be coming from your property is now growing over the public highway causing problems for pedestrians.”

On the reverse of the letter is a photograph of the tree, clearly showing it is planted in the pavement, four feet from the edge of the pensioner’s house on Chelston Avenue, Hove.

The second half of the letter raises the risk of legal action or fines if no action is taken.

It stated: “In order to ensure the safety of users of the public highway we have to include the following legal notification so that we can act to remedy the problem ourselves if necessary.

“Failing to respond to the above can leave you liable to civil or other claims for damages in the event of an incident.

“In addition, should the vegetation not be cut back within the above mentioned fourteen days, the Council may carry out the works required by this notice and charge you for all reasonable costs incurred in doing so.

“Note that Council or private tenants failing to cut back offending vegetation risk eviction if this duty is included in their tenancy arrangement.”

After the Haslers complained, the council apologised in writing.

A letter from acting head of traffic management David Fisher read: “I understand that the tone of the letter can seem threatening however the wording of the letter is a legal requirement.

“I am sorry for any distress the letter has caused and can assure you the matter is being investigated.”

He said procedures had not been correctly followed.

The original letter gave the couple 14 days to take action over the offending “overgrown vegetation”.

But yesterday, 32 days after the date of the letter, the council had not taken any action over its own tree.

The couple believe the tree should now be removed.

“It’s got to come down,” said Mrs Hasler. “We’d like to have a tree there but not one that moults like that.

The tree, a member of the hawthorn family, has long sharp thorns and in winter drops thousands of red berries over the pavement, which become a hazardous slush.

For four years the Haslers have complained annually to the council about the risk, as well as the mess the berries make when traipsed into their home.

They said they have been told there is no chance the tree, planted six years ago, will be removed.

Mrs Hasler said: “People have cut their head on the spikes, and the berries get everywhere. Every single year we get this, but the council never come.

“Four times I’ve called them this year and asked them to treat it as urgent, but they haven’t come. I can’t sweep up the berries every day.

“It’s their tree and it’s so dangerous. Anyone could slip on the berries, and they’re all over the pavement and all over my drive, every year. I’ve had to put a towel down in my hallway for the mess.

“And the spikes are so sharp, we’ve had to cut off the lower branches so people don’t get hurt.

Ward councillor Robert Nemeth told The Argus: “The last thing that Mrs Hesler needs at the moment is a threatening letter when she is recovering from such a serious operation.

“It is not at all clear why this was sent, when it is so obvious that the tree belongs to the council, and why it was so rude.

“I certainly don’t expect my residents in Wish Ward to be treated like this and trust that a full apology will be issued immediately.”

Brighton and Hove City Council did not respond to The Argus’s request for a comment.