Road rage puts blue-blooded bad boy back in court

By Andy McSmith

LONDON - The heir to one of England's greatest aristocratic titles added more entries to his long sting of convictions on Monday, after a display of road rage.

The love affairs and criminal behaviour of Charles James Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford - the man born to inherit the fabulous country estate of Blenheim Palace - have delighted gossip writers almost as much as they have distressed his aristocratic family.

On Monday, he admitted dangerous driving, careless driving, and criminal damage. The court accepted his plea of 'not guilty' to a charge of dangerous driving.

It was his second court appearance in less than two months. He is still awaiting sentence over another incident on the roads, involving a high speed chase by a police car.

The 51 year old Marquess, usually known as Jamie Blandford, is the oldest son of the Duke of Marlborough, whose family own Blenheim Palace, a magnificent country seat in Woodstock, near Oxford.

It was awarded by Queen Anne to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, for his spectacular victory over the army of Louis XIV of France in 1704.

The Marquess's more distant relations include Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Diana Spencer.

But he will never inherit his father's £100m palace.

In 1994, the Duke conducted a successful high court action to ensure that his wayward son would never win control of it.

"There have been black sheep in every family and there's nothing new about that.

We have had some good 'uns and some bad 'uns.

He's had every chance, hasn't he?" the Duke said.

On Monday, a court heard how the Marquess vented his fury on a fellow motorist, Graeme Kennedy, on a busy Oxfordshire road last summer.

The Marquess tailgated other drivers at high speed, overtook Mr Kennedy, cut sharply in front of him, forcing him to swerve to the wrong side of the road, and overtook him again by driving up on the grass verge.

He then stopped in the middle of the road, blocking both lanes of traffic, ran back to Mr Kennedy's car swearing and shouting, kicked out at the driver's door, then sped away.

It was his second court appearance in less than two months.

Last month, in a case that could not be reported until yesterday, he was convicted at Coventy Crown Court of dangerous driving, after the court saw police video of his 4x4 Range Rover Sport tailgating and 'undertaking' other cars on the M42.

It appeared to be almost touching the vehicle in front of it, before it swerved towards a police car, forcing the driver, Pc Keith Dyson, to swerve away.

The Range Rover then weaved onto a slip road and accelerated off in an apparent attempt to avoid being stopped.

With PC Dyson in pursuit, the footage showed the police Volvo reaching speeds of 72 mph in a 50 mph zone and 84 mph in a 60 mph zone to keep up with the Range Rover.

The Marquess has been treated for the past month in London's Priory Hospital.

He was banned from driving and released on bail so that he can continue treatment, and will be sentenced in September.

His past misadventures include being fined £100 in 1983 for assaulting a policeman, and being sentenced to three months in prison the following year for breaching his probation.

He was put on probation again in 1985, and fined �A3;1,000, for breaking into a chemist's shop.

In 1986, he was convicted of drug offences.

He admitted spending £20,000 on cocaine in four months.

There were hopes that his life would straighten out after he married a kindergarten teacher in 1990, and produced a son, George, Earl of Sunderland, but the marriage broke up.

After two brief periods in jail in 1994, he was ordered to attend a clinic for drug addiction.

In 1996, after more fines for motoring offences, the Marquess vowed: "That is the last time you will see me in court."

The promise lasted for three years, until he appeared in court accused of shoplifting, but was acquitted.

Between court appearances, he was involved in a car crash that left him with a face full of scars.

There was then a period of relative calm, during which he married again, to a Welsh ceramic artist.

He has a baby daughter, born in April.

In a rare interview, the Marquess once confessed: "I do feel confused about my destiny and I have always resented having my life mapped out for me. I don't really know what to do with my life."

- INDEPENDENT

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