Ingham bound over to keep the peace

ON THE COURT schedule he was listed simply as Mr Bernard Ingham, stripped of his knighthood with one stroke of a clerk's pen. And when he sat down, only his bushy grey eyebrows were visible over the edge of the dock.

All in all, yesterday's appearance before Croydon magistrates should have been a humbling experience for Lady Thatcher's former press secretary. But Sir Bernard - as he should properly be described - emerged from it completely unchastened.

Charged with criminal damage to a neighbour's Mercedes, he agreed to be bound over to keep the peace for 12 months. But he still proclaimed his innocence, said he regretted nothing and portrayed himself as the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

It was a quintessential English neighbours' dispute that caused Sir Bernard's "unfortunate descent into disgraceful conduct", as Julius Capon, the prosecuting solicitor, put it yesterday.

For 11 years he had been engaged in a bitter feud with Barry Cripps, a builder, and his wife, Linda, who live next door to him in Monahan Avenue, a tree-lined suburban street in Purley, Surrey.

Sir Bernard, 66, has objected to a series of home improvements, including the building of a sauna hut in the Cripps's back garden. But it was a row over rights of way at the back of his detached bungalow that made him finally blow his top in December, the court heard yesterday.

Espying Mr Cripps stray on to his land while reversing a silver Mercedes SLK into a garage, Sir Bernard "started to shout and gesticulate".

He then allegedly kicked the car and, when Mrs Cripps drew his attention to this, replied: "Good, I'm glad." Croydon Constabulary, summoned to the scene, were left in no doubt as to the stature of the man with whom they were dealing. When charged, the defendant enquired of them, haughtily: "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Sir Bernard, a broadcaster and columnist described his solicitor, Graham Pithouse, as "a person perhaps of some substance", as he glowered at the courtroom while his alleged sins were recounted.

But as someone not usually shy of voicing an opinion, he was strangely taciturn. Told by Ray Dann, chairman of the magistrates, that he was to be bound over to the sum of pounds 1,000, he nodded curtly. "Is that a `yes'?" asked Mr Dann, sharply. "Yes, it is," replied Sir Bernard.

Afterwards, on the steps of the court building, he exuded defiance. "It is ironic that I am here, because I have sought over 11 years of problems to uphold decent people's rights and the planning system," he said. "But that's life."

In an unexpected development, Sir Bernard later delivered a cheque for pounds 792 to the Cripps family to cover the damage that he denied he had caused.

Mr Cripps said: "We are weary of the constant bombardment that we have suffered. We are no match for Sir Bernard Ingham. Let's hope that he will now allow us to get on with our lives peacefully." Given their opponent's track record, that seems highly unlikely.

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