Author: By Terri Judd
The Marquess of Blandford walked from court a free man yesterday after a jury cleared him of stealing two pairs of sunglasses and accepted his plea to “show the world he has had the strength to change for the better”.
The 44-year-old aristocrat who has undergone a much-publicised battle with cocaine addiction and had several previous scrapes with the legal system was, in his own words, “the architect of his own downfall”, but insisted in court that he was rebuilding his life.
The jury at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court took less than an hour to find him not guilty of shoplifting. The Old Harrovian appeared close to tears as he was cleared of theft, closing his eyes momentarily before extending a brief nod to the jury.
His defence barrister Peter Binder said, as the pair left court: “I am just very happy for him that he can get on with his life now.”
Sitting in the dock, the eldest son of the 11th Duke of Marlborough and heir to the £100m Blenheim Palace estate, gave little appearance of a man whose ancestors have starred in some of Britain’s most glorious historical moments. Perhaps all to aware of his former notoriety and keen to show that he had pleaded to guilty to almost every previous offence, his defence counsel chose to list his 21 convictions before the jury and highlight his battle to fight years of drug addiction.
The court was told that on 10 November last year, when he was grabbed as he tried to walk out of the Knightsbridge department store Harvey Nichols with £237 of unpaid goods – two pairs of Cutler & Gross sunglasses and a stick of Clinique deodorant – Lord Blandford had been on day release from the Priory, a private psychiatric hospital.
Duncan Penny, acting for the prosecution, maintained that security guards at the store, who spotted him behaving suspiciously through CCTV cameras, believed he was deliberately removing price and security tags from a pair of glasses. But it was discovered that Harvey Nichols had lost the video evidence, and it was never explained why Lord Blandford should remove a security tag from one pair of glasses while leaving the other one in place to set off the exit alarms.
Throughout the case, the Marquess, who had more than £3,000 credit available on account at Harvey Nichols and spent £725 on luggage and vouchers in the same visit to the store, insisted the he had simply forgotten to pay in a hurried and distracted state. He insisted: “I had nothing to hide, although I had done it in error, I hadn’t done it with malice.”
Sitting in the dock, he had cut a sad figure – his face visibly scarred by a recent car crash. Born to incredible wealth and privilege – a distant cousin of the late Sir Winston Churchill – Lord Blandford gained a reputation for seeking out drugs on the streets of Brixton. At one point he was reputed to have squandered £20,000 on his habit over four months. His addiction led to a string of criminal convictions and psychiatric problems.
He had appeared in court eight times previously and was sentenced to three jail terms. In October 1983 he was fined £100 for assaulting a policeman, and in April 1995 he admitted two offences of forging prescriptions and one of theft of drugs.
In 1994, the Duke of Marlborough, who admitted his eldest son was the “black sheep” of the family, took steps to prevent the Marquess selling the Oxfordshire estate first granted to his ancestors by Queen Anne in 1705, placing it in the hands of a new trust.
Recently, however, Lord Blandford – who insists he is a reformed drug addict – said he was determined to start afresh for the sake of his eight-year-old son George, the Earl of Sunderland, and his girlfriend of six years, the Welsh artist Edla Griffiths. “I don’t want to go down that route again,” he said.
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