“Just imagine the situation,” says Ken Quilter (not his real name). “You’re a retired couple. You’ve got a nice restful garden with a sunny lawn. Then one day the next door neighbour plants a line of fast growing Leylandii. They push up like Jack’s beanstalk and before you know where you are, there’s a big dark wall of green looming over YOUR garden, making your life a misery and cutting out half the light. What do you do?”
I don’t know. Go to law?
“Get the law to help you ? You must be joking. Try again.”
Go and reason with your neighbours?
“If they were reasonable people, they wouldn’t be putting up Leylandii in the first place. Another try?”
Creep next door at night and chop the things down?
“Ah! Now you’re getting close. But what if you get caught? Do you know what the law will do to you if you are caught rearranging your neighbour’s garden?”
I don’t know, no.
“No, quite. So what you do is send for me, and I do the dirty work for you. Call me a hatchet man, if you like.”
Ken Quilter (not his real name ) laughs at his own joke. Well, he is entitled. He is, after all, a contract killer even if only of trees. He is hired by one set of people to go and kill another set of people’s trees. “Kill” is not his favourite word. “Remove” or clear away” appeals to him more. Nevertheless, a tree contract killer is what he is.
“ Well, yes, in the sense that an angler is a fish-killer or a florist is a flower-killer, I suppose that is what I am. But Tree Disposal is what it says on my business card.”
And there’s a demand for it?
“Enormous,” says Kevin Quilter, whose real name is Nigel Footley, which is not his real name either. “Look, just think about it. There’s this huge bank of Leylandii staring at you, which you hate. You want to get rid of it. If you, the householder, do it, you’ll be arrested. If you hire an unknown to do it, and pay cash in used fivers, you’re safe. As long as you’ve got an alibi, to prove you couldn’t have carried out the revenge, of course. When I’m doing a job I always advise the client to be elsewhere. In Barbados for two weeks, preferably. That’s what I call a good alibi.”
Has he ever been caught?
“Funnily enough, the biggest danger is not of being caught in the act of tree chopping, but just of being caught on someone else’s property, because then people will suspect you’re a burglar, which is far more serious. Nobody ever jumps to the conclusion that you’re just there to remove trees!”
Yes. But has he ever been caught?
“Let’s just say I’ve had to talk my way out of some pretty odd situations. I was once paid to remove quite a large sycamore, and that required a lot of climbing about in the upper branches, planning the operation. Guess what I was arrested for?”
“Being a peeping Tom! They let me go, though.”
“I’m short-sighted. Couldn’t see a thing from up there, let along a lady through a bathroom window. That’s what I told the police, anyway.”
But how did he ever manage to remove a whole sycamore tree undetected?
“ Ah - me and my gang dressed up as council workers. Zipped in and chopped the tree down. By the time local outrage was up and going and getting organised, it was too late. We’d scarpered. Council got it in the neck for removing a protected tree. Council mystified. Very.
“Funnily enough, the big jobs are often the easiest. It’s like stealing a grand piano. Nobody stops you, because they can’t believe you’re not authorised. But you have to be really careful stealing into people’s gardens and eliminating their Leylandii. A contract killer doing an assassination can kill someone in a second. You can’t saw down a tree in a second. And sawing and chopping are bloody noisy, so I have to make sure the coast is clear. Planning, planning, planning....”
Isn’t it dangerous work?
“Can be. I sawed through something I thought was a root once. Turned out to be a mains cable. The effect was electric!”
But what about trees falling on top of you, things like that?
“Never happens. Want to know why? Because I never let trees fall down! Even when I’ve severed the trunks of a line of Leylandii I prefer to keep them standing up - prop them up, tie them all together, lean them against something, whatever it takes. What this means is that they may remain standing for days after I’ve sawn through at the bottom, so the crime isn’t discovered until long after I’m off the scene. Sometimes I pass by a garden which I did weeks before and the trees are still standing. Going brown, of course. Often they’re watering it like mad to keep it going. No use, of course. Perhaps I should tell them.”
And there again, perhaps not.
The Independent Thursday May 14 98