FRESH fears have been raised over the future of a historic building in St Columb after its multimillionaire owner was jailed for cocaine possession.
Property tycoon James Brown, who owns the 19th-century Old Rectory, was found by Welsh police with a haul of drugs hidden in his Bentley car.
The 45-year-old, whose nose has collapsed after years of snorting coke, was sentenced to five years in prison at Swansea Crown Court last week.
Historians and community leaders in St Columb are now urging Cornwall Council to compulsorily purchase the crumbling building, also known as the Old Bishop's Palace.
They have been backed by the national Victorian Society, which last year named the rectory in its top ten list of endangered architectural treasures in the country.
Designed in 1851 by renowned architect William White, the property was intended to be the home of Cornwall's bishop – before it was decided a cathedral would be built in Truro.
It has seen life as a base for the Women's Land Army during the war and as a Meadery restaurant and hotel in the Nineties.
Chris Costelloe, director of the Victorian Society, said he had written to the council asking it to step in.
He said: "We are very worried about the building. The news of the owner going to prison makes matters more complicated and it seems likely that legal ownership will be mired in hopeless confusion. The only hope is compulsory purchase. This is something the council needs to do.
"I don't think Cornwall can afford to lose this building."
Phil Ellery, president of the St Columb Major Old Cornwall Society, said the rectory had been "hidden away and left to decay" since it was bought by Mr Brown.
He said a recent report from a conservation officer had laid bare the extent of the problems, including severe water damage, dry rot and overgrown vegetation.
Mr Ellery said: "News that the owner is now in prison makes things even more difficult and frustrating for all interested parties.
"We hope that Cornwall Council can step in and find a solution to put the rectory in a satisfactory condition that would preserve it for future generations."
A spokeswoman for the council confirmed work was being undertaken to "progress solutions for this nationally important heritage asset" and teams were "monitoring its condition".
She added: "The vulnerability and poor state of repair of the building is of great concern to the council.
"There has been a change in ownership but sadly negotiations have been unsuccessful in securing a way forward for the future of the building.
"The council is pursuing using its statutory powers to address the condition of the building through the enforced sale of the heritage asset."
Brown retired abroad at the age of 36 after making his fortune in property development.