Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Police sergeant's career in tatters after he is caught on CCTV jumping over garden fence and taking neighbour's £16.99 wind chimes from in bitter row over bonfire smoke

A neighbours’ dispute over £16.99 wind chimes hanging in a garden has ended in an expensive criminal trial and left a police sergeant’s career in ruins.

Paul Duke, a police officer married to a detective, was caught on CCTV climbing over his neighbour’s 6ft high fence, taking his wind chimes and returning to his own garden to put them on a bonfire.

Neighbour Edmund Looby, 42, and his teacher wife Tatiana, 39, had upset Duke by complaining to the council about fires he had been lighting to burn rubbish during house renovation work.

The Loobys reported the theft incident to police and Duke, 45, told investigators the chimes belonged to him and he was ‘recovering his own property.’

The ‘bizarre’ row resulted in a day-long trial at Doncaster Magistrates Court involving two barristers, eight witnesses and a district judge.

Father-of-two Mr Looby, a construction worker who has since moved to Kuwait with his family, had his £1,000 travel costs paid from the public purse to fly in and give evidence.

The total cost of the case is estimated at around £3,000 – with more than half that bill being paid by the taxpayer.

Duke was found guilty of criminal damage by District Judge Jonathan Bennett. He rejected the policeman’s account that he was reclaiming his own wind chime, describing Duke’s actions as ‘extremely strange behaviour’ and a ‘foolish escapade.’

Duke was given a conditional discharge, ordered to pay £620 and £16.99 compensation to Mr Looby. After 26 years in the force Duke also faces losing his job following the criminal conviction.

Questioning why the wind chime dispute came to court, District Judge Bennett said: ‘Sometimes I wondered today what we were all doing here at an overburdened court to deal with criminal damage out of a neighbour dispute over a £16.99 wind chime. The Crown felt the matter met the public interest and I had to judge it on its merits.’

The court heard Duke moved in to the house at Barnsley, South Yorkshire, in August 2012 with his partner Detective Constable Eleanor Bottomley and their two sons.

The Loobys had lived next door for seven years but were dismayed when Duke started burning doors, cupboards, carpets and plastic in his back garden.

They complained to the council and were advised to keep a log of all fires and were able to monitor activities via a CCTV camera that was previously installed for security reasons.

In March this year they checked video footage – which was played in court – showing Duke dressed in jeans climbing the fence and removing the chimes from the paved garden.

Mr Looby produced a receipt to prove he bought the ‘Chimes of Polaris’ from a local garden centre three years earlier. He described the chimes in court and said: ‘You could hear it most times through the day when it was windy.’ He said Duke never had a wind chime.

Duke told the court he put a wind chime in his garden when he moved there as it came from his partner’s late grandmother and was of ‘sentimental value.’

He was off work for three weeks with a knee problem and realised ‘the wind chime had gone.’ He saw a wind chime hanging in the Loobys garden. ‘I recognised it straight away as our old rusty metal wind chime.’

Duke told the court ‘in hindsight I might have dealt with it differently but at the time it seemed a reasonable thing to do.’

Adding: ‘I had reached a tipping point with everything else that had gone on. I was 1,000 per cent certain it was my wind chime.’

He believed Mr Looby had a ‘vendetta’ against him because he was a policeman. ‘I was very angry when I saw my wind chime on my neighbour’s wall.’

Miss Bottomley said they had decided to get rid of the wind chime because it had gone rusty.

Guy Ladenburg, barrister for Duke, said in law no offence has been committed if the defendant holds an honest or mistaken belief that the property is his own. But the defence was rejected by the judge.

After the case Mr Looby said: ‘I felt passionate about this. I hope people can see the bigger picture. It is the principle of the matter.

‘I would have paid my own fare to come over for this. We have a serving police sergeant who was prepared to climb over a fence and do something like that. It is an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money. But justice has been done.’

South Yorkshire Police are to carry out a misconduct investigation to decide Duke’s future. Detective Superintendent Terry Mann said the public rightly expected ‘high standards of behaviour’ from officers. ‘The force expects its staff to act with integrity and professionalism to ensure people receive a high quality service and have a police service they can be proud of.’

Original report here

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