‘Chainsaw massacre’: Surrey police hunt for phantom lumberjack
Police are hunting a mystery tree feller who has cut down dozens of trees along a particularly picturesque stretch of the River Thames in Surrey, to the consternation of local residents.
In what has been called the “chainsaw massacre”, the culprit has struck up to 30 times over 10 days and is believed to be operating under cover of darkness.
The trees, all healthy, have been felled along a two-mile route between upmarket Walton-on-Thames and Weybridge. The motive, though, remains a mystery.
Extra police patrols have now been set up to try to catch the perpetrator or perpetrators, whom officers believe may be travelling in a small red car.
The Elmbridge Tree Patrol Facebook group, set up to to report the fellings, has more than 400 members angered by the senseless vandalism. Residents posted warnings from police for individuals not not to approach any suspects for fear that they might be dangerous, and to report any suspicious activity to police.
The chainsaw spree has seen heavy branches strewn over the towpath, posing hazards to joggers and cyclists, as well as on roads, causing potential danger to traffic. Wood in the water is a threat to boats and canoeists, including those from the nearby Elmbridge Canoe Club, where five trees were felled on Tuesday night.
Pictures from the area show trees reduced to stumps and debris all over the towpath and nearby roads.
“As you all know, there’s a maniac going around Weybridge, Walton-on-Thames and Cobham, chopping down trees, ruining the environment, ecosystems, habitats and making everyone upset,” said a message on the Facebook group.
The first reports of the fellings were made on 28 March. Local police and council leaders have urged residents to come forward with any information.
Insp Bert Dean, Elmbridge borough commander, said: “I do not underestimate the impact this mindless damage has on the local community, as well as the risk it has posed to motorists by obstructing roads. We are looking at every opportunity to identify who is responsible for this.”
In a joint statement, Surrey police and Elmbridge borough council said a number of trees were first cut down by chainsaw around the Cowey Sale area of Walton-on-Thames on 28 March.
“Since that time, Surrey police and Elmbridge borough council have identified at least 20 other instances of trees being cut down in Walton and Weybridge.
“We would like to reassure the local community that we are following up all relevant information and the investigation remains ongoing. Patrols will also be carried out in the areas which have been targeted.”
Anthony Cilia, a retired kitchen fitter from Weybridge who was among the first to spot the damage, told Mail Online: “Why this person is doing this is beyond me. There are plenty of wooded areas nearby to go to, but for some reason they are choosing to do it in a public area on the banks of the river.
“None of the trees look to have been chopped up for firewood. What is worrying is that whoever they are, they have access to a chainsaw powerful enough to slice through a 60cm tree trunk.”
Cilia said four trees were cut down on Tuesday night, one of which blocked the road. When he heard the buzzing of a chainsaw early on Thursday he rushed out, but discovered only council workers cutting up one of the already felled trees so that could be removed.
Elmbridge Canoe Club in Weybridge has examined its CCTV footage to see if the suspect had been caught on camera, but the cameras did not cover the exact area.
Christine Elmer, councillor for Walton South, said some of the trees chopped down had been planted in memory of loved ones. “Really important if anyone has any info on who is going around our town and wider borough cutting down trees, including memorial trees, to get in touch with the Elmbridge police,” she tweeted.
Others have taken to Facebook to vent their anger and discuss possible motives, ranging from a grievance against the council, a vendetta, or even that it is the work of fans of the videogame Fortnite carrying out a tree-felling task.
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