Months of suspicion and fear in a local village finally came to an end yesterday with the conviction of the man who waged a hate campaign against his neighbours. Retired couturier Wesley Thorndike was jailed for six years for the campaign which culminated in his holding at gunpoint one of the village’s parish councillors. He was convicted of vandalism, graffiti, sending a host of offensive letters, arson and wilful pollution. But he was cleared of allegations that he trained his dogs to attack cricketers, indulged in wilful flatulence in public places and put glue in neighbours’ car door locks.
During the trial he was exposed as an obsessive, snobbish and vindictive man with an “unhealthy hostility towards his fellow villagers”. In his ruling, Judge David Prentiss also asked for the preparation of psychiatric reports. When defence barrister Ivor Hairbrush said that his client had never suffered from mental illness nor seen a psychiatrist, the judge retorted, “Well, perhaps he should have done. These do not appear to be the actions of a man with all his guns in their holsters!”
During the eight-day trial the jury heard how Thorndike mounted a campaign of hate against any villager who slighted, annoyed or irritated him – or even (as prosecution barrister Benedict Trumper put it to giggles from the public benches) “walked in a funny way”. Offences included poisoning the village pond, defacing the walls of the 12th century church and posting fliers depicting a girl as a prostitute. At one point he even sent an anonymous letter to a convicted burglar informing him of his neighbours’ absence on holiday and inviting him to burgle their house.
Often the triggers for his animosity were slight indeed. The prosecuting counsel put forward the proposition that in the case of shop assistant Ophelia Smart (victim of the prostitution allegations), his dislike stemmed from her failing to acknowledge him when she stood at a bus stop one day.
His downfall came when two enterprising ladies of the village, suspicious of Thorndike’s activities, chose to trespass onto his property (a stately manor house, Genesis Hall, next to the cricket field) to look for evidence. It was when Thorndike discovered one of them in his barn that he held her at the end of a shotgun before she was rescued by a local taxi driver and the village’s police constable.
Forensic scientist Dr Vince Peel told the Herald that the behaviour of someone like Thorndike is impossible to predict. “Often something trivial is all it takes to tip the balance.” Peel believes that Thorndike’s activities will have brought villagers closer together, “though they may continue to be nervous of outsiders for a while. A village like Stonking is built on trust, and the villagers are likely to find that the foundations of that will have been badly shaken during this difficult time.”
We attempted to ask local villagers for a view on this loss of trust, but almost unanimously they thought it better not to comment. Only one, Abel Batchelor (who describes himself as being “on an employment sabbatical”) had anything to say :
“Well, it can’t be mine; I’ve never worn a truss in me life!”