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AN alcoholic who crashed his van through the cathedral gates and tried to blame it on an imaginary stranger has been jailed for three months.

Steven Clack of West Dean was found guilty earlier this month of causing criminal damage after a two-day trial.

The 51-year-old who was sentenced at Salisbury Crown Court on Friday was also banned from driving for 19-and-a-half months.

The court heard that on July 2, 2016, Clack destroyed the Harnham gates to Cathedral Close, leaving them hanging off their hinges and causing around £9,000 damage.

While the wooden gates were restored in 1937, the stonework dates back to the 14th century.

Clack originally denied the charge and said it was a stranger who had driven through the gates in his Ford, adding the person then drove him home before leaving, never to be seen again.

But after a jury unanimously found him guilty he admitted he had made up the story.

Representing himself in court at sentencing, Clack said he was “deeply, deeply sorry” for what had happened.

He said: “My intention was not to demolish the gates, only to nudge them to see if they would open. When I drove through the gates I didn’t realise at the time that the whole gate would collapse.”

He said he went back to his house and drank half a bottle of wine “very quickly” and that when the police arrived soon after he admitted it but changed his story the next day.

Clack told the court that at the time he was a “home alcoholic” and “drinking two bottles of wine every day”.

He said: “I think the Close incident was a cry for help.”

Asking Judge Parkes QC not to jail him, he said he needed to “turn his life around” and care for his teenage children and his mother.

He admitted making up a fake story, adding: “I didn’t want to go to prison and I couldn’t pay thousands of pounds of damage so I panicked.”

But Judge Parkes said it was “drunken stupidity” that had led Clack to make up the “completely ludicrous story”.

He said the jury as a whole had not believed the “cock and bull story”.

Judge Parkes said: “You decided that you were going to get out of the Close no matter what and, in my opinion, you drove the van hard and fast at the gate.

“The police caught up with you very quickly and found your very badly damaged Ford outside, and you inside with a bottle of wine.

“After being aggressive and accusing them of trespassing you admitted what you had done. The fact is that your drunken stupidity caused considerable damage to one of the ornaments of our city.”

Judge Parkes told Clack that the “selfishness of one person has implications for other, innocent people”, in this case Salisbury citizens and Clack’s wife and children.

“That’s the inevitable consequence of this sort of idiotic criminal behaviour,” he said, adding: “You must plainly go to prison.” 

Clack was also ordered to pay £115 victim surcharge and £900 costs.

  •  Clack will face charges of driving with excess alcohol and failing to stop at an accident scene in Salisbury Magistrates Court at a later date.