A disgruntled gardener poisoned a retired High Court judge's plants and lawn when he sacked him after a "jealous" feud with his horticulturist wife, a court heard today.
Edward Hancock, 45, is accused of spraying weedkiller on Sir Richard Tucker's garden at Stanton, in Broadway, Worcestershire, following a 20-year "clash of egos" with Lady Jacqueline, a garden designer.
Sir Richard, 77, who presided over high profile cases like the Polly Peck fraud trial, and his third wife, returned from holiday to find their lawn had turned orange, magistrates were told.
Hancock, of Northway, Tewkesbury, was employed for 20 years before the strained relationship between he and Lady Tucker boiled over in April this year.
Hancock was fired via a note left on his van after he failed to turn up to work at the 1.5 million property, Gloucester Magistrates' Court was told.
He is standing trial after pleading not guilty to a charge of causing £500 of criminal damage to the flower borders and the grass verge at Sir Richard's farmhouse.
In evidence Sir Richard said that Hancock had been a "good country gardener" around Stanton, in Broadway, for 20 years, but was volatile. He did not disagree with defence solicitor Lloyd Jenkins who claimed there was a "clash of egos" between highly skilled gardener Lady Jacqueline and the working tradesman.
He said: "There have been times when my wife had said, 'It's either him or me'."
Opening his evidence, Sir Richard said: "I got on with him perfectly well but he had to be held with velvet gloves because he was very temperamental and sometimes moody.
"He worked one day a week, always on Wednesdays. In the latter years he became very moody and his attitude to my wife became very aggressive. They found it difficult to communicate with each other.
"A lot of the time she was in London and they didn't meet but, on April 16 there came a time when they had words."
On that occasion, he had left instructions that a hard tennis court should be sprayed with moss killer, but Hancock took umbrage claiming that Lady Jacqueline had failed to say "Good morning" to him, the court heard.
Sir Richard said Hancock failed to show up for work a week after the tiff, but did go to do some work for a neighbour two days later. Sir Richard took the opportunity to put a note on his van, terminating the relationship.
It was when they returned from a short break in the south of France on May 12 that the couple discovered their beloved blooms, including elephant's ear - colocasia esculenta - had been decimated.
Sir Richard said: "They were dead or dying and had obviously been sprayed with some form of herbicide. I was astonished and felt very offended that a man who had worked for me for 20 years and claimed to be a professional gardener could have done such a thing, particularly nearing the time when the whole village opens its gardens to the public for charity.
"We had to strive hard to get it looking decent. All the circumstances pointed to one man."
Lady Jacqueline said in evidence: "I felt that he was a bit jealous that I'd arrived after him."
She had been at the property for 19 "and a half" years, while Hancock was slightly more long-serving at 20.
Summing up their relationship, she said they got on "fairly remotely".
Many of the plant borders had been "scorched" she said, in her opinion with a contact herbicide.
Mr Jenkins suggested in cross examination that there was a "clash of gardening cultures" between the two of them.
He said: "You are the expert and without being patronising, Mr Hancock is the common gardener."
She answered: "That might have been what you are told," adding that the real problem was that Hancock simply refused to communicate with her.
Kenneth Ryland, a 61-year-old company director who lives nearby, said he witnessed Hancock spraying on the Tuckers' four acres of land, and grew suspicious as he knew he had been fired.
Mr Ryland, who had also employed Hancock as a gardener until he handed in his notice, told the court: "I said to my wife I think I've just seen Edward Hancock doing something very stupid.
"When I returned to the village after being away I saw the dead plants and dead grass, and put two and two together. We didn't like what we saw and I rang Sir Richard to say I thought I'd seen the cause of the problem."