A Fathers4Justice campaigner accused of defacing a John Constable masterpiece at the National Gallery will not be tried by a jury - because he caused only £3,300 worth of damage.
Paul Manning, aged 57, from Kirkstone Road, Walkley, Sheffield, is said to have glued a photograph of his son to The Hay Wain – one of Britain’s most famous paintings – at the central London gallery on June 28.
Manning allegedly vandalised the 1821 oil painting after losing custody rights to his son, 11-year-old Elliott, in the High Court.
The Hay Wain was the subject of restoration work costing £15,000 - but an independent expert rated the cost of repairing the actual damage at less than £3,500, Southwark Crown Court heard.
Manning was due to enter a plea to a charge of criminal damage but the case was sent back to magistrates’ court for trial after Judge Alistair McCreath queried the bill.
He said: “£15,000 is the cost of restoration - the cost isn’t incurred by reason of the damage by the defendant. What the damage has brought about is an acceleration of the process of the restoration so it is done sooner.”
Prosecutor Lesley Jones acknowledged the £15,000 costs were ‘slightly ambiguous’.
Judge McCreath replied: “It’s not - there is no basis that this court had jurisdiction of this case. I would need to be persuaded before accepting jurisdiction for the matter that this was criminal damage of £15,000.”
Kyriakos Argyropoulos, defending, said Manning still wanted the case to be tried by a jury as any damage to a masterpiece would drastically lower its value.
He said: “On the face of it, even without evidence, any damage to any work of art will lessen its value to some degree, even if it is only 0.1 percent of damage.”
But Judge McCreath disagreed and sent the matter to Westminster Magistrates’ Court on a date to be fixed.
Holding a placard decorated with pictures of his son, Manning told a public gallery packed with Fathers4Justice campaigners: “I want to thank you all for coming – I appreciate it so much.”