Family buy £1.5m manor home to discover seller 'gutted' it before he left
Doors, windows, fireplaces and even floors were stripped from the property, as well as historic stained-glass windows and wood panelling
A couple's dream move to a £1.5m manor house turned into a nightmare after they found it had been 'gutted' by the seller before they took ownership.
Martin and Sarah Caton bought the Grade 2* listed Bochym Manor in Helston, Cornwall, in 2014.
But when they arrived, they found the historic building had been stripped bare - with some of the doors, windows, fireplaces and even floors having been removed, as well as historic stained-glass windows and wood panelling.
Rubbish was piled high both inside and outside the property, while most of the 13 attached holiday cottages were also gutted.
Martin Caton, 50, said he had had two five-hour viewings and while some maintenance was required, he noted no physical damage to the property or surroundings.
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But after waiting eight months from exchange of contracts to completion, when the family eventually took ownership in August 2014, he was shocked by the scene of "utter destruction" he found.
"The inside was barely recognisable. Doors, panels, bathrooms, kitchens and floors had been torn out," he said.
"Two of the external doors had been removed and the property was not secure."
He added: "Rubbish had been left in piles inside and outside the property. This destruction had extended to the external buildings and gardens. The holiday cottages had been gutted with trees cut down and garden structures taken away.
"Most of the curtains and carpets we had paid for had also been removed that had been paid for in addition to the purchase price.
"It was difficult to actually comprehend and take in. I was totally distraught."
He reported the situation to police, as well as to Cornwall Council and Historic England, and had a survey carried out to document the damage.
In April the following year, the property's previous owner Dr Payne was arrested and some items were seized following a search of his property and local containers.
The items were put in police storage while they carried out their investigation but the case dragged on and nothing happened for years until a court ruling that has finally seen items including framed stained glass windows, slate floor slabs, decorative items, carvings, panels and doors returned to the Catons.
The issues sparked a nine-year battle, with the couple finally winning a magistrates' court order to have items seized by the police returned to them.
Truro Magistrates Court concluded that the former owner had "systematically" removed anything he could, leaving the property they found in "stark contrast" with the scenes pictured in the original estate agent brochure.
Caton said while he is relieved the near-decade long nightmare had reached a conclusion, it was a "somewhat hollow victory" as the saga had added a further £1.5m in costs to the couple.
In their ruling, magistrates said they were satisfied that parts Dr Payne had taken were permanent parts of the manor and so part of the property the Catons had purchased.
They also ordered Dr Payne to pay costs to Devon and Cornwall Police but not to Mr and Mrs Caton.
After the ruling, Dr Payne said he was preparing to appeal against the ruling and denied committing any offences, saying: "Had I committed any criminal damage, had I committed any theft, had I committed any offences under the Planning Act, I would have been prosecuted.
"Otherwise everything is just hearsay, innuendo and suspicion."
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Buying a house: Your rights
Information offered by Citizens Advice includes what to do if you are dissatisfied with the state a property has been left in when you buy it, as well as when furniture and fittings have been removed or if it is left damaged.
It says: "As the buyer you may be dissatisfied with the state of the property when you move in, for example, it is dirty.
"There is nothing you can do about this because the seller is under no legal obligation to leave the house in a clean state."
However, it says a seller is obliged to empty a property of all their furniture and belongings, unless you agree otherwise with them, adding: "If the seller has left some belongings in the house you should ask the seller to remove them. If the seller cannot or will not remove the items you will have to arrange to have them moved.
"Moving the items may cost you money and you could try to recover this from the seller. However, if the seller refuses to cover the costs you may have to take the seller to court to recover the money and this is unlikely to be worthwhile."
In the event that furniture and fittings have been removed when they were included in the sale, buyers are instructed to double check with their solicitor and then seek advice from someone like Citizens Advice.
If damage has been caused between the exchange of contracts and completion, it is the seller’s responsibility to inform the buyer, the advice states.
"It is however the buyer’s responsibility to insure the property from the date of exchange of contracts and to have the repairs carried out," it adds. "The buyer will then have to make a claim on their insurance policy."