A developer has been fined £30,000 for destroying five trees in a bid to make a profit.

Three rare elms, a purple beech and a sycamore were bulldozed even though they had longstanding preservation orders on them.

The destruction took place on a weekend when council offices were shut in a deliberate bid to avoid the work being stopped.

The trees had stood next to Anston House, Preston Road, Brighton, for more than 50 years.

Hove Crown Court was told Bridgetown Properties and its operations director Timothy Harding planned to sell the site on for a profit as quickly as possible. Harding, 38, of Hill Drive, Hove, and the company admitted felling the trees despite preservation orders being placed on them in 1988.

Rowan Jenkins, prosecuting, said: "These were specimen trees and three of them were very rare elms.

"They were destroyed in flagrant disregard of any preservation orders on them."

The loss of the trees sparked protests, with more than 600 people signing a petition urging Brighton and Hove City Council to prosecute Harding and the company.

Jeffrey Lamb, defending, said four previous outline planning applications for the site indicated up to nine trees could be removed.

He said Harding had jumped the gun by moving in to fell the trees but said he had not benefited financially from it.

Bridgetown Properties was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £2,000 costs. Harding was fined £5,000 and must pay £2,000 costs within 12 months or face three months in prison in default.

Judge Charles Kemp said: "These trees were of significant environmental value and their destruction was cavalier."

Councillor Lynda Hyde, planning committee chairman, said: "This was a deliberate and calculated act of environmental vandalism. We are pleased with the sentences handed out by the court. They send out a clear message that developers who flout the law will be held to account."