By JR on Thursday, September 08, 2011
The disputed doll above. It's legal to buy and sell them so why is it illegal for them to be seen? The shop below must be an unimaginable horror
The delightful homes nestle side by side in acres of open countryside. One is an elegant, listed manor house, said to be the oldest in the village. The other is a £1million barn conversion behind a red-brick wall and sweeping gravel drive.
But the harmony of this idyllic Suffolk community has been shattered – by a golliwog. Yesterday a 65-year-old grandmother was preparing to appear in court charged with a race hate crime after placing the doll in her window.
Jena Mason was arrested when her black neighbour, Rosemarie O’Donnell, complained that it was a racial taunt following a long dispute between the two households.
Now lawyers representing opposing sides in the battle of the Worlingham golly will argue whether putting it on display so close to the home 48-year-old Mrs O’Donnell shares with her husband Steve and their mixed race children was an act of ‘racially aggravated harassment’ – the charge Mrs Mason faces.
Underlying the allegation is a disagreement over plans by Mrs Mason and her husband Terry to build new stables on their land.
Their son-in-law, Daniel O’Dell, who also lives at the 16th century manor, is in training for the British Olympic dressage team and needs the space for his horses.
But the O’Donnells hired a planning consultant to object to the application, citing boundary and right-of-way issues, traffic increase and problems from disposing of liquid and solid waste from the horses. They have also complained about the Masons’ dogs allegedly coming on to their land.
Days after the local council granted planning permission, Mrs O’Donnell made a formal complaint to police about it, and supplied a photograph. It had appeared in a ground floor annexe window near the main entrance to the barn, and close to the only road out of the property.
The businesswoman and mother of two, who has Jamaican roots, said the sight of it left her ‘shocked and upset’. Mrs Mason was arrested, questioned at Lowestoft police station, charged, bailed, and told to appear before the town’s magistrates next Tuesday.
Now, in a dispute that looks set to attract international attention, a court will have to decide if it was a deliberate act of racism – or, as Mrs Mason insists, that the golly simply ended up on the window sill when she tidied it up with her grandson’s other toys.
Whatever the outcome, the case appears to be dividing the community. One associate of the O’Donnells said they were ‘a perfectly nice couple’, adding: ‘Some people round here need to move into the 21st century.’
But a villager complained that ‘newcomers’, as he called them, ‘should go back to the city if they don’t understand living in the country’.
The O’Donnells moved to Manor Farm Barn in 2003 from Kent. The conversion gave them five bedrooms, six bathrooms and eight reception rooms. Photos on the internet show statues of twin horses’ heads on the front wall and a Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes saloon in an open garage. Mr O’Donnell, 54, an IT executive, recently valued it at £1.2million on a house information website.
Yesterday he admitted there had been a history of disputes with his neighbours over the stable plans, and the Masons’ dogs.
He said the golliwog had been placed in the only window visible from his property. ‘It’s not a children’s toy,’ he said. ‘You can see it has buttons and other items on it. It was clearly deliberately placed on the window sill facing out of the window.
‘I do not believe it was casually tossed up there. It has caused immense upset. You live in the countryside and you think you have got away from all this nonsense.
‘I would much rather they went after me with a baseball bat rather than insulting my children and wife. We came to East Anglia because we thought it was beautiful, scenic and very safe with an extremely low level of crime.’
Mrs O’Donnell said: ‘I’m sorry – I’m not allowed to say anything.’
Mrs Mason also refused to comment yesterday, although earlier she had said she was ‘completely and utterly surprised’ by the complaint.
The manor house, also believed to be worth in excess of £1million, is a former farmhouse with architectural and historic connections that give it a Grade II listing.
Terry Mason emerged yesterday to say his wife was ‘very ill’ – and told callers to contact her solicitor. The solicitor, James Hartley, confirmed she intended to plead not guilty to the charge. He added: ‘There have been various disputes between the O’Donnells and the Masons. Mrs Mason denies acting in a racial or abusive manner.
‘The golly toy belongs to Mrs Mason’s 16-month-old grandson and was put on the window sill along with other items while she was tidying up. ‘There was no malicious or racial intention on the part of Mrs Mason and it is regrettable that the matter has been blown out of proportion.’
The maximum penalty that magistrates can impose for the race offence she faces is a £5,000 fine. If the case goes to Crown Court, however, it could lead to a maximum two years in jail if proven.