Llanwenarth House is a Georgian-style, Grade II listed manor house, which has lain in the hills of the Usk Valley in South Wales since the 16th century. It is where Irish composer Cecil Alexander was staying when he was moved to write the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’.
But as Newport Crown Court heard this week, when property tycoon Kim Gregory Davies took over the place, all respect for history and tradition was abandoned. The developer bought the property in 2007 for £675,000, and has since spent more than £1 million on an illegal makeover. Davies ripped out unique and irreplaceable original features, putting modern IKEA-style fixtures and fittings in their place. By far the most disturbing fund made by prosecutors, was that Davies had decorated the walls with the gravestones of three children buried more than 100 years ago. The headstones were later identified as coming from the graves of three deceased children – David, 4, Rosie, 3, and 11-month-old Thomas.
No planning or personal permissions had been asked for or obtained.
Judge Daniel Williams said Davies had turned the precious and beautiful building into a “hidden palace of a iron curtain dictator”. He continued:
“The damage done is serious and irreparable….and architect Michael Davies said this was the worst kind of example of restoring a listed building that he had seen in his 25-year career.
“You said when you bought it that you wanted to restore a lovely old house to its former glory….but you did it on the cheap and without permission.
“You have misled the court from the beginning of proceedings to the very bitter end.”
“You have tried to ambush the court and chance your arm. But you have played high stakes and lost.”
Judge Williams then ordered Davies to pay £240,000 of the prosecution’s £440,000 bill, together with a fine of £60,000. If the fine is not paid in full, Davies will be subject to 20 months in prison.
The sentence by Judge Williams is warmly received after a string of recent cases in which wealthy defendants were either let off or had paltry sentences, on the basis of their privilege.
- In December 2014, three RBS Bankers who had conducted more than £3m of fraud were spared jail time because Judge Rebecca Poulet QC said they had ‘suffered enough’
- In March this year, City Banker Edward Drew was dancing with a woman’s legs wrapped around his waist in a busy bar. When a woman nearby asked him to calm down, he became physically violent. When her male friend intervened on her behalf, Drew glassed him in the face. Shards from the glass slashed the neck of another woman nearby. The next month, Recorder Jonathan Cohen spared Drew jail because Drew had a “privileged background and a lot going for him”
- In May this year, Personal Banker Navern Rankin was found guilty of accessing customer accounts in order that fraudsters could pilfer them. He was spared jail because Judge Stephen Kramer QC felt he was “vulnerable” and “exploited and manipulated” by others.
- In June, banker Jonathan Weal avoided jail for hiding a £20m Turner painting from auditors while going through bankruptcy proceedings.
Conversely, our justice system treats those at the other end of the wealth spectrum somewhat differently. Just a few weeks ago, a mother was fined £300 for stealing three bottles of baby milk to feed her child after the DWP cut off her welfare payments. Thankfully, while the justice system failed, social justice triumphed as an outraged British public raised over £15,000 for the woman on crowdfunding site Indiegogo.
What these cases have in common, is a feckless disregard for life and justice among the most wealthy and privileged groups in our society being replicated in our justice system – while the rest of us scramble to clean up the mess. Surely Britain, we can do better than this.
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