Friday, 14 Jun 2024

Couple ‘distraught’ after buying mansion only for previous owner to strip it

A couple have been left devastated after discovering the previous owner of their new £1.5million home had stripped it of doors, windows, floors, fireplaces, and even plumbing and electrics. After agreeing the sale with former owner Dr Mark Payne, Martin and Sarah Caton made the discovery that Bochym Manor was no longer their dream home made up of a walnut-panelled library, Jacobean oak staircase and secret passageways.

The couple were shocked to find the home stripped when entering the gates of the ten-bedroom gothic-revival house in Cornwall.

Stained glass windows had been taken from the property, along with three of the four baths and part of the library’s wood panelling, carved by the Bond Street firm that rebuilt the Houses of Parliament.

Dr Payne had also taken the staircase from the estate’s clock tower as well as gutting the 13 holiday homes that came with the estate, near Helston.

The entrance pillar had also been knocked down to allow builders’ trucks in to life the timeless interiors.

“I was distraught,” said Mr Caton, a vet and entrepreneur. “It was like a warzone or like a tornado had shredded the place. He took pretty much every door handle, tiles off the wall, the locks were removed.

“There was some very random and bizarre destruction. I don’t understand the mentality behind it – it’s staggering that you can be that cruel actually.”

The couple had felt that “something wasn’t right” when Dr Payne made excuses to prevent them from visiting the property.

But they ignored their doubts. “When I saw it for the first time, all my worst fears came true,” said Mr Caton. “I wanted to close the door, walk away and put it back on the market and never come back.”

The couple – who dreamed of turning the estate into a wedding venue and holiday cottages – estimate that they have been forced to spend a further £1.5 million repairing the properties they purchased in 2014.

As soon as the Catons discovered the damage, they reported it to the police and Cornwall Council. Sellers are not allowed to take fixtures and fittings – items that are attached to the property – without consent from the buyers.

They also need permission from the local authority to take fixtures from a listed building. The police arrested Dr Payne on suspicion of theft, criminal damage and offences within the Planning Act at his new home in Cumbria and recovered a small number of items in April 2015.

But he was released without charge when the council dropped the prosecution fearing that they would not be able to prove he had caused the damage. Mr and Mrs Caton then set about using historic photographs to prove what had been taken and presented it to Cornwall Council.

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The authority hired an external lawyer who advised the council that they had “ample evidence” to bring a prosecution – but still they refused.

“It’s odd that if we were to change a small window without permission they will come after you, but if you destroy a house you are allowed to drive away with no consequences,” said Mr Caton.

The police kept the items they had seized, and when the criminal prosecution collapsed there was a hearing under the Police Property Act to determine who owned them.

In March, after nine years of fighting to have the items returned, the Catons received some of the valuables after Dr Payne failed to appear of supply any evidence at Truro Magistrates’ Court.

Dr Payne told The Mail on Sunday he is appealing against the ruling. He had been debarred from appearing having produced no evidence, but also said it was an “inconvenient” 1,000-mile round trip for him. The former Economist journalist added: “Had I committed any criminal damage, had I committed any theft, had I committed any offences under the Planning Act, I would have been prosecuted. Otherwise, everything is just hearsay, innuendo and suspicion.”

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