A British university professor was ordered on Friday to pay most of his life savings in compensation for scratching “polite” graffiti onto dozens of luxury cars.
Stephen Graham, an urban studies expert at Newcastle University, must pay £28,000 ($42,000, 32,000 euros) compensation after he scratched the words “very silly”, “arbitrary” and other messages onto cars with a screwdriver.
Newcastle Crown Court heard that the 48-year-old academic had gone into the streets of the city in northeast England last August wearing underpants and a suit jacket and had vandalised 27 cars, after mixing alcohol with medication.
Judge Guy Whitburn accepted that Graham’s behaviour was totally out of character but insisted he must pay the compensation — effectively his and his wife’s life savings — in full.
Graham’s lawyer Julian Smith said his client had suffered a bad reaction to a combination of antibiotics for a tooth infection, medication for depression and the three quarters of a bottle of gin he had drunk.
“This is a case which is truly exceptional,” said Smith.
“Part of him still struggles to comprehend how it is someone with his professional circumstances should find himself before the court answering for these offences.”
Graham, who had admitted four counts of criminal damage at an earlier hearing, was also handed a nine-month jail sentence, suspended for a year.
He said he could remember going to bed and the next thing he recalled was being arrested, apart from some “dreamlike” memories of the vandalism spree.
The vandalised cars included 10 four-wheel-drive vehicles. Graham had previously said he did not approve of people who drove such large cars in cities but the judge said this was not a motivation for his vandalism.
“You are a man who has a distinguished academic career,” the judge told Graham as he passed sentence.
“You are highly respected in your field. The references that I have read speak of you in glowing terms.”
He added: “You were out and about for something like two hours and must have walked for miles, because the damage that you caused was spread among vehicles over a very considerable area.”