The Marquess of Blandford, the troubled aristocrat who was born to be master of the largest private house in Britain, is starting a six-month prison sentence today for motoring offences.
The former heir to the vast Blenheim Palace estate in Oxfordshire was jailed yesterday over a string of incidents, including a road rage attack in which he kicked the victim's car door. He was also banned from the road for three-and-a-half years after admitting dangerous driving, careless driving and causing criminal damage.
A defence lawyer blamed Blandford's erratic behaviour on depressive illness, stress and anxiety – and revealed that the aristocrat had slipped back into drug abuse. His latest in a series of brushes with the law began on 16 June last year, Oxford Crown Court was told. Police followed the 51-year-old aristocrat as he "tail-gated" other drivers and wove in and out of lanes on the M42 motorway, before cutting up the police car and speeding off at 95mph. On 22 August, a motorist, Graeme Kennedy. sounded his horn when Blandford's Range Rover cut in front of him. Blandford reacted by slamming on his brakes and forcing Mr Kennedy to swerve, then mounted a grass verge to overtake and make him to stop. He emerged, swearing and shouting, and kicked the door of Mr Kennedy's car, it was said.
On 22 January this year, Blandford was seen driving so erratically on the road between Banbury and Wootton that two worried motorists dialled 999. Blandford overtook three vehicles at 70mph, veered into a bus lane and drove down the wrong side of the road, the court heard.
Peter Binder, for the defence, said Blandford was a complex and vulnerable individual who was depressed, under severe stress and anxious at the time of the offences. He spent Christmas and New Year alone after separating from his wife but there had since been a reconciliation.
Mr Binder said Blandford had also been admitted to The Priory rehabilitation clinic after relapsing into drug addiction and had been undergoing new treatments for his various disorders. But Judge David Morton told Blandford: "There cannot be one standard for the unhappy and one for those settled in life." In addition to the jail term and driving ban, he ordered him to pay £2,577 in court costs and take an extended driving test before his driving licence is returned.
Blandford has been in trouble with the law before. Yesterday, he appeared in court under his full name of Charles James Spencer-Churchill – revealing his family's links both to the wartime Prime Minister and the late Princess of Wales. He is the eldest son of the 11th Duke of Marlborough, although his relations with his father were all but severed in 1995, when Blandford was jailed for a month for forging prescriptions to feed his drug habit.
Although he was in line to be the next Duke, he was barred from inheriting Blenheim or the chairmanship of the trust which runs the 2,100-acre estate – both of which will now pass to his son George, the Earl of Sunderland.