Catcher of train robber in court over staircase

He had captured the leader of the Great Train Robbers and was looking forward to spending his hard-earned pension rescuing a run-down farmhouse from dereliction.

But the retirement dreams of an ex-Scotland Yard detective and his wofe came tumbling down after he removed a spiral staircase from their Whitby farmhouse.

The elderly couple are accused of damaging 18th century Grade Two listed Long Lease Farm at Hawsker by installing a straight stairway during renovations 17 years ago.

Brian McNeil, 76, and Jillian McNeil, 71, both deny failing to comply with a listed building enforcement notice served in September 1998.

Former Detective Chief Inspector McNeil was a top “thief catcher” whose career highlights included helping Tommy Butler arrest Great Train Robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds in Torquay in 1968.

He decided to get back to his roots when he left the Metropolitan Police by buying the farm at Hawsker, where he had worked on the land as young man.

But his retirement dream landed him on the wrong side of the law when he replaced the “box-winder staircase with plank door and butterfly hinges” - one of the features of note which led to his new home being listed in 1980.

Opening the case Scarborough Magistrates Court, barrister Nicholas Mason, for the national park, argued the five-day trial in front of a District Judge was necessary for the “prevention of crime”.

Mr Mason added: “In this case the enforcement notice is designed to prevent the commission of a crime and failure to comply with it is in fact a crime itself.”

During the trail, the national park officials have agreed most of the listed features related to the outside of the but the lay-out was an important factor.

The court heard yesterday that the McNeils had offered to put the spiral stair case back in 2007.

But the McNeils wanted it to turn a different way – to avoid it coming up through their newly re-modelled bathroom – and national park bosses said “no”.

The McNeil’s architect Barry Snoxell told the court before the McNeil family took over the farm “it was in a state of semi-dereliction and incapable of reasonable human habitation.”

The staircase “was in a very poor state. There were sections which had been repaired. New pieces were attempted and wedged into it,” he added.

“It was usable with care is probably the best description.”

The trial continues.