Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Susan Kelo, meet Neville Presho

A court awarded Neville Presho €46,000 for his house. The AP article uses the ridiculous word "wins," when in fact it wasn't a victory at all:
Presho said Tuesday that his mid-19th century stone-built home had become "a car park surrounded by boulders to prevent inebriated drivers from driving into the harbor."

High Court Justice Roderick Murphy ruled that he couldn't determine who set fire to Presho's property in 1993 or knocked down its stone walls in the following months while Presho, his wife and two children were living in New Zealand, 11,600 miles (18,700 kilometers) away.

Presho said he returned to Ireland in 1994 after being told by Donegal County Council — the nearest local authority for a northwest island that famously bills itself as a self-governing kingdom — that his home had suffered mysterious damage.

Presho recalled how, as the passenger ferry arrived from the Irish mainland, he searched in panic but couldn't see his home at all.

He soon learned that a neighbor with whom he had entrusted a key had permitted Doohan's construction workers to live in his home while the neighboring hotel was being built.

While gathering testimony from March to July, Murphy determined that the workers left behind flammable materials in the property and the blaze was deliberate, but he couldn't reach a conclusion as to who ignited it. Nor could he be certain who knocked down the shell that remained, although he noted that Doohan owned the only heavy construction equipment on the island.

The judge said police could not get island residents to cooperate with the investigation into the house's gradual disappearance over a nine-month period, an event that "should have been obvious to all."

The Associated Press left telephone messages for Doohan and his lawyer, John Cannon, but they were not returned. Cannon told the court Monday his client planned to appeal rather than pay.

Presho never achieved fame as a filmmaker — but produced, directed and co-wrote one that uncannily foreshadowed his own experience. His 1981 film "Desecration" told the story of an amateur archaeologist on an Irish island who toils to preserve its medieval castle, but his restoration work is destroyed by other islanders determined to develop a mine there instead.

Presho spoke wistfully Tuesday of his lost island retreat, where he could sit on his front doorstep watching the fishermen come and go in the harbor and the panorama beyond of the wild Atlantic and Donegal mainland.

But Presho said he doesn't expect to live there again. Even if he does receive his court-ordered euro46,000, that's less than a fifth of the average house price in Ireland.

"You could build a really nice chicken coop with that sort of money," he quipped, "but you'd have no money left over to buy the chickens."
"Mysterious damage," indeed.

How can there be grounds for an appeal? Regardless of who set the fire, the hotel clearly has been trespassing on Presho's property for 15 years. The owner was already there and clearly knew he was trespassing, making him complicit in the crime. Some jurisdictions use the euphemism "conversion," but it's in fact grand theft.

What minimal justice for Presho. The lesson is that when you have "law" and "courts," you can get all the "due process" you can stomach. "Due process" just doesn't guarantee the decision is correct or just.

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