Chris Grayling, being a politician, is not always popular with everyone. Amongst lawyers he ranks close to herpes in terms of how welcome he is round the robing room. Another group that he has managed to alienate is the Fathers for Justice campaigning group.
On 19th August 2014, Martin Matthews took to the roof of Mr Grayling’s rather nice house in Surrey (paid for largely by the tax payer). Not to protest our Lord Chancellor’s expenses claims, but rather campaigning for an “open and transparent family court system“.
He stood trial for Criminal Damage on 21st January 2015 where he was found guilty. This was after he seemingly couldn’t resist a roof when presented with it and had a cheeky two hour protest on the roof of Redhill Magistrates’ Court before coming down to have his trial.
As stated, this was a rooftop protest. The allegation of criminal damage relates to him putting screws into the bitumen in Mr Grayling’s roof in order to erect his banner. The District Judge ruled that “the ability of the felt to protect the house from water has been compromised, albeit to a minor degree, due to the width of the screws I have seen“.
And that reader, some very small holes in the roof, was the criminal damage.
The maximum for criminal damage is 3 months in prison. This gets nowhere near that and Mr Matthews was fined £100, with £200 costs and a £20 Victim Surcharge.
Now this is interesting. It took me back ten years or so when I had my first ever (proper) appearance in the Crown Court – an appeal against conviction where the issue was ‘what is damage’?
In short, the definition of ‘damage’ is wide, but not gaping. It is to “include not only permanent or temporary physical harm, but also permanent or temporary impairment of value or usefulness.” (Morphitis v Salmon – see also Fiak (2005) where it is quoted).
Further guidance comes from Whitely – “Any alteration to the physical nature of the property concerned may amount to damage within the meaning of the section. Whether it does so or not will depend on the effect that the alteration has had upon the legitimate operator (who for convenience may be referred to as the owner) … where … the interference … amounts to an impairment of the value or usefulness of the [property] to the owner, then the necessary damage is established.”
So, is a small hole in a roof damage? Given that the roof was bitumen, the answer will come down to what state the roof was in after Mr Matthews left. If there was a ‘scar’ but no actual damage to the integrity of the roof, then there would not be damage. If there was still a hole that could leak, then this would constitute damage.
In this case, the Judge found as a fact that there was damage. This is a conclusion that he was entitled to come to and is unlikely to be (successfully) appealed.
This whole escapade however will have cost many thousands of pounds. Very much a large sledgehammer to crack a very small nut(case). The sort of court case that one would imagine Mr Grayling would heavily condemn …