Blandford weeps but says he has reformed

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The Marquess of Blandford broke down and wept in the witness box yesterday as he revealed the ravages wreaked by his years of cocaine addiction.

The Marquess of Blandford broke down and wept in the witness box yesterday as he revealed the ravages wreaked by his years of cocaine addiction.

As he took the stand to defend himself against a shoplifting charge, the heir to the £100m Blenheim Palace Estate quietly explained how drug abuse had led to 12 years of criminal convictions for everything from burglary to deception. His personal finances had been taken out of his hands, he said, and even his mobile phone account and storecard were held in another name.

But when his eight-year-old son George, the Earl of Sunderland, was mentioned he lost his composure and wept in the witness box.

He admitted that he first used drugs in 1981. But LordBlandford, who denies one charge of theft, insisted he was "a reformed drug addict", determined to seek help for his problems. On 10 November last year, when he tried to walk out of Harvey Nichols with £237 of unpaid goods, he had been on a day release from the Priory Psychiatric Hospital.

Leaving his girlfriend, Edla Griffiths, and her mother waiting in a car outside, he had rushed into the Knightsbridge department store to buy a £425 suitcase and £300 of vouchers.

As the Marquess selected two pairs of sunglasses, a guard in a CCTV control room believed he saw him removing a price ticket and possibly a security tag from one pair. Two plain-clothes detectives were alerted and grabbed Lord Blandford as he tried to leave the store. He was found to be carrying two pairs of Cutler & Gross sunglasses and a stick of Clinique men's deodorant.

The Marquess told Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court: "I said I would apologise for any mistake on my part and suggested that we go back into the store and sort my mistake out by crediting these three items on my account." But the security staff refused to accept his claim of absent-mindedness and he was arrested and taken to Chelsea police station.

Under cross examination by Duncan Penny, for the prosecution, the Marquess's tone became more forceful. "I had nothing to hide," he said. "I had done it in error, I hadn't done it with malice."

But he admitted he had lied to PC Adam Wright when he denied being under the care of a psychiatrist. He said his past experience had led him to believe that anything he told the police would end up in the papers. "I protected myself by denying it. I have the right to keep my personal, medical information to myself." Mr Penny, however, insisted that Blandford had simply been telling a lie.

The eldest son of the 11th Duke of Marlborough said he had received treatment for disorders related to drug abuse and depressive illnesses. He was due to fly to Arizona the following day, 11 November, to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by a severe car crash.

Peter Binder, acting for the defence, pleaded with the jury to give the Marquess credit for trying to reform. "Give a verdict to say to the world that Lord Blandford has had the strength to show he has changed for the better and has embarked on a path of recovery."

The case continues.