Couple return from holiday to find their cottage missing a wall and roof after their neighbour demolished his house
A builder who took the "catastrophic decision" to demolish his Grade II listed cottage while his neighbours were on holiday has been ordered to pay more than £20,000 (€23,000) in fines and costs.
Bradford Crown Court heard how Joan and Geoff Peel returned from their holiday to find neighbour David Eckersall, 55, had knocked down his mid-19th century home leaving their adjoining late-18th century cottage with no proper gable wall, a hole in the bathroom and no roof on its dining room.
Eckersall, who has been a joiner for 44 years, had planning permission to extend Nutter Cote Farm, in Thornton-in-Craven, North Yorkshire, UK, which he bought in December 2015 and demolish a small existing extension.
But a judge was told how, after beginning the work, he knocked down the whole property with a digger in April last year.
Alex Menary, defending Eckersall, said his client took the decision to knock it down after making a legitmate hole in a wall to pin the new extension to the existing cottage and it became clear there were significant structural problems which were making the whole building unsafe.
Mr Menary said the decision, which he took without consulting planners, had left him with a mortgage of almost £300,000 to pay on a property which no longers exists.
The barrister dismissed prosecution claims that Eckersall could profit from the whole incident if he rebuilds with a modern house. The court heard how planning permission had been refused for a replacement, although the defendant can appeal.
Judge Colin Burn said this was not a case suitable for a prison sentence and ordered Eckersall to pay a £17,500 (€20,400) fine and £3,275 (€3,800) in prosecution costs.
He warned the defendant that he would be jailed for six months if he did not pay within 12 months.
The judge said it was not possible to prove or disprove Eckersall's claim that he only knocked down the building when it was clear there were severe structural failures emerging from the work he was doing.
He said the defendant then took the "catastrophic decision to knock down the whole building".
The judge added: "You took the decision off your own bat to take down a Grade II listed building."
The judge decided not to compensate Mr and Mrs Peel after hearing about ongoing litigation. He said he believed any financial award he made could affect the total they are awarded by other authorities or courts.
But he said: "Their building was no longer completely watertight. It caused a massive amount of upset and distress to them as well as a significant amount of physical damage."
He said both the Peels and Eckersall were waiting for listed building consent to complete remedial work and he noted the irony that the best solution to Mr and Mrs Peel's building issues would be to let Eckersall rebuild his property.
The judge said: "If such a property were to be built you would, in effect, be profiting from your criminality."
The court heard that Nutter Cote Farm was an 1850 extension of Mr and Mrs Peel's 18th century property, Nutter Cote Cottage.
They were listed in the 1980s as typical examples of Laithe Houses - distinctive cottages of the Pennine uplands.