Man ‘damaged £24m Gainsborough painting after fleeing from psychiatric hospital’

A homeless man damaged a £24 million painting by one of Britain’s most celebrated artists after absconding from a psychiatric hospital, a court has heard.

Keith Gregory, 63, left two deep slash marks in an X shape on The Morning Walk by Thomas Gainsborough when he attacked it with a drill bit in front of horrified art lovers browsing a collection of old masters on the afternoon of March 18 this year.

Gregory, of Kettering in Northamptonshire, caused in excess of £10,000 worth of damage to the artwork before he was dragged away by security guards shouting that he had just been released from prison and was going to trigger a bomb.

The 232-year-old painting had been hanging in the east wing of the British National Gallery in Trafalgar Square when Gregory attacked it.

The British National Gallery, Trafalgar Square

When he was told the cost of the damage could run into millions of pounds, Gregory said: "I’ve got it all in my bank account. My father is Jimmy Gregory, the owner of QPR [football club]."

As he was arrested, he told officers: "Everyone was taking pictures of me when they saw what painting I was doing it to."

He later said: "I don’t care if you kill me. I don’t care what you do to me in the cells."

He later boasted: "I bet you don’t have something like this every day. I bet you’ve never arrested someone for this before."

Gregory denies a single charge of criminal damage claiming he is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Southwark Crown Court heard that Gregory had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital on October 22 last year but had absconded on November 11 and had been sleeping rough for several months.

Prosecutor Nicholas Dunham told the jury: "Since the incident Mr Gregory has also been under psychiatric care and has been diagnosed with a mental illness, most probably paranoid schizophrenia."

The court heard that Gregory has been described as "guarded and paranoid" by doctors and believed he is under constant surveillance and fears someone will kill him and make it look like suicide.

Mr Dunham said: "He said while standing in the National Gallery he heard a voice telling him ’put a mark on the painting and your family will find you’."

He continued: "The dispute between the Crown and the defence arises as to whether when Mr Gregory damaged the painting he knew what he was doing was wrong.

"The Crown says that he did. The defence says he didn’t."

"We say that what he said at the time and what he said afterwards, taken together, that makes it clear that he knew that what he was doing was wrong."

The painting depicts "elegant young couple" William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen strolling through a woodland landscape.

A National Gallery website devoted to the work said Hallett and Stephen were both aged 21 and "due to be married in the summer of 1785, shortly after the painting was completed".

In a statement, Larry Keith, the interim head of collections and head of conservation at the National Gallery, said it had taken in-house restoration experts more than 80 hours to repair the damage.

He said the slash marks could never be hidden completely and "inevitably due to the nature of the damage there is some depreciation to the value of the painting".

In footage captured on the arresting officer's body-worn camera, Gregory was filmed muttering to himself.

He can be heard saying "he's been following me for months around the doorways" and "they let me walk out of prison but then they said I escaped".

He also says "I had a beautiful house in Hampstead" and "they said I had problems with women, that's not true I've had girlfriends".

The jury is due to hear from three psychiatrists on Tuesday morning.

The trial, which is expected to conclude on Tuesday afternoon, continues.


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