A country gardener has been cleared of poisoning a retired High Court judge's lawn after being sacked in the wake of a "jealous" feud with his horticulturist wife.
Edward Hancock, 45, was 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 Tucker, 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.
Mr Hancock, of Northway, Tewkesbury, was employed for 20 years before the relationship between he and Lady Tucker boiled over in April this year after she offered him coffee - which Hancock said gave him a headache.
The pair stopped speaking and after Mr Hancock did not turn up to work, Sir Richard fired him by leaving a note on his van, the court heard.
Mr Hancock explained that he only went back to the £1.5 million property after his sacking in a secret attempt to fix the lawn after moss killer he sprayed earlier - at Sir Richard's request - had begun to turn it "bluey".
He hoped that putting fertiliser on it would repair it in time for the charity open day - there was no malicious intent, he said.
Chairman of Gloucester magistrates Carol Francis said the bench was satisfied Mr Hancock's spraying had killed the exotic plants - but added they were also sure there was no sinister intent in his actions.
After he was found not guilty of causing £500 of criminal damage to the flower borders and the grass verge at Sir Richard's farmhouse, Mr Hancock said he was "very pleased" at the outcome.
In evidence, Sir Richard said Mr 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 [this year] 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 the day ended with a frosty silence between the pair after the coffee disagreement.
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 when he put the note on Mr Hancock's 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 that she and Mr Hancock had 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.
In evidence Hancock said he and Sir Richard got on "like lads on a building site" throughout their 24-year working relationship.
His bond with Lady Tucker was merely "reasonable" but not antagonistic, he insisted. He said: "Me and Sir Richard Tucker got on very well indeed and we never had a problem all the time I worked there."
The misunderstanding with Lady Tucker on April 16 came after he was offered coffee by Lady Tucker, and told her he couldn't drink it because it gave him a headache.
"She determined that as argument," he explained. He said he never intended to resign, and on the day he was supposedly absent from work he was on another job in nearby Evesham.
He said of his attempt to repair the dying grass: "I had a reputation in the village for 25 years. I didn't want my name to be bad because I could see grass was going to die."
He insisted it was phosphogen, not weedkiller. The damage was "too neat and tidy to be vandalism", he insisted.