A man who spread ketchup, jam and baby oil over a tree in an effort to stop children playing on it punched a woman who confronted him over it.

Swindon Magistrates’ Court heard Cyrus Driver, had smeared the sticky substances – and even cut off branches – during a long-running dispute in 2018 concerning children using a tree growing on common land near his home in Charter Road, Chippenham.

On August 5 that year, locals found the tree had been covered in baby oil. Nearby was then 57-year-old Driver carrying the oil.

A woman, 20s, confronted the man over what had been going on. The argument became heated, prosecutor Ben Worthington said. “I think it’s fair to say both parties perhaps say some things they shouldn’t do and indeed I think Mr Driver was abused during the course of the confrontation, for which the woman was given a caution.”

The woman was punched once in the neck, causing the skin to redden. When he was interviewed about the matter, the man accepted there had been a confrontation but denied throwing the punch.

Driver had been due before the magistrates last February but failed to show up and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

That warrant was executed by the police 16 months later and, appearing before Swindon Magistrates’ Court via video link from Melksham police station, Driver, now 59, of Charter Road, Chippenham, pleaded guilty to assault by beating.

Raymond Tan, defending, said his client suffered from manic depression and had been in a bad place when he skipped court last year. His mental health had been affected by the coronavirus lockdown.

Driver was a man of previous good character and, had he accepted the assault when he was interviewed by the police, would have likely been given a caution. He had been provoked but overreacted, his lawyer said.

Magistrates granted him a six month conditional discharge. Chairman of the bench Christine Smith said: “We’re going to deal with this by way of a conditional discharge, which means you are not going to be punished for today’s offence.

“However, If you commit any further offence in the next six months you will be sentenced for the new offence put also this offence will be resentenced.”

He must pay £35 costs and a £20 victim surcharge.