A couple’s nine-year legal battle after buying a £1.5million mansion in Cornwall, only to find it gutted
Steeped in history with its walnut paneled library, Jacobean oak staircase and secret passages, Bochym Manor seemed to be the ultimate dream home.
At least that’s what Martin and Sarah Caton thought when they bought the listed building in Cornwall for £1.5 million.
But when they entered the gates as owners of the ten-bedroom Gothic Revival house, which dates back to the Domesday Book, their dream turned into a nightmare.
After agreeing on the sale, they discovered that former owner Dr. Mark Payne stripped the building bare, with local workmen ripping out doors, windows, floors, fireplaces, and even the plumbing and electricity.
Historic stained glass windows were taken in, as were three of the four baths and some of the library’s rich wood panelling, carved by the Bond Street firm that rebuilt the Houses of Parliament.
Martin and Sarah Caton bought the Grade II listed building in Cornwall for £1.5 million
Steeped in history with its walnut paneled library, Jacobean oak staircase and secret passages, Bochym Manor seemed to be the ultimate dream home
A brochure photo showed the property’s French Empire salon in all its splendour
Surveyors depict damage to Bochym Manor. Part of the library’s rich wood paneling was taken up
Not content with gutting the manor, Dr Payne had also taken over the steps of the estate’s clock tower and gutted the 13 cottages belonging to the estate, near Helston.
The scale of the operation was such that the entrance pillar at the end of the driveway was knocked down to allow the construction workers’ trucks to enter to lift the timeless interior.
“I was distraught,” said Mr. Caton, a veterinarian and entrepreneur. “It was like a war zone or a tornado had torn up the place. He took just about every door handle, tiles off the wall, the locks were removed.
“There was a very random and bizarre destruction. I don’t understand the mentality behind it – it’s staggering that you can actually be so cruel.’
The pair both had an intuition that something was ‘not quite right’ before they were given the final key when Dr Payne made excuses to avoid visiting the premises.
But they ignored their doubts. “When I first saw it, all my worst fears came true,” said Mr. Caton. “I wanted to close the door, walk out 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 homes – estimate they’ve been forced to spend a further £1.5 million repairing the properties they purchased in 2014.
The pair both had an intuition that something was “not quite right” before they got the final key when Dr. Payne made excuses to keep them from visiting the premises
The pair estimate they’ve been forced to spend a further £1.5 million repairing the properties they bought in 2014
The damage to one of the carved fireplaces at Bochym Manor was imaged by surveyors
The stripped staff kitchen of the historic building was photographed by surveyors
As soon as the Catons discovered the damage they reported it to the police and Cornwall Council.
Sellers are not allowed to take home contents – items that are attached to the home – without the permission of the buyers.
They also need permission from the municipality to take luminaires from a nationally listed building.
Police arrested Dr Payne on suspicion of theft, criminal damage and offenses 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 charges for fear they wouldn’t be able to prove he caused the damage.
Mr and Mrs Caton then started using period photographs to prove what had been taken and presented it to Cornwall Council.
Leaflet image. Bochym Manor, steeped in history with its walnut paneled library, seemed to be the ultimate dream home
During the demolition, historic stained glass windows were removed from the building
The authority hired an outside lawyer who told the council they had “enough evidence” to prosecute – but they still refused.
“It’s odd that if we change a small window without permission they’ll come after you, but if you destroy a house you’re allowed to drive off without consequence,” Mr Caton said.
Police kept the seized items, and when the criminal charges collapsed, there was a hearing under the Police Property Act to determine who owned it.
In the Jacobean drawing room with the mantelpiece, supports have recently been returned
The fireplace in the historic salon was also removed. The room has now been restored
Finally in March, after nine years of fighting, the items were returned to the Catons after Dr. Payne had not appeared or provided any evidence at Truro Magistrates’ Court.
Dr. Payne told The Mail on Sunday that he will appeal the ruling. He was barred from appearing for failing to provide evidence, but also said it was an “inconvenient” 1,000-mile round trip for him.
The former Economist journalist added, “If I had committed criminal damage, if I had committed theft, if I had committed offenses under the Planning Act, I would have been prosecuted.
“Otherwise everything is just rumor, innuendo, and suspicion.”