Comic Relief box thief from Welwyn Garden City spared jail

PUBLISHED: 06:00 12 July 2013

Dean Harper leaves court

Dean Harper leaves court

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A MAN who stole a Comic Relief charity box and a laptop from a hospital chaplaincy thanked magistrates as he was spared jail.

The court heard Dean Harper, 39, had also tried to break into Oaklands College in Welwyn Garden City – where he claimed to be attending an interview as a beauty student.

Harper was handed a 36 week sentence suspended for 24 months after he pleaded guilty to three counts of burglary, one attempted burglary, and one count each of shoplifting, theft from a car and criminal damage.

Chair of the magistrates, Andrew Zucker, said: “That [prison] would be the easy option.”

But he warned the defendant that if he breaks the law again there would be no doubt where he “would be going”.

Harper, of Moatwood Green, Welwyn Garden City, said: “This is my last chance. Thank you.”

St Albans Magistrates’ Court heard he had committed the crimes to feed his drug habit.

Between February and June of this year, his offences included stealing from a chaplain’s office at the QE2 Hospital, a charity box from Campus West and a BlackBerry phone from Sainsbury’s, in Welwyn Garden City.

He also tried to break into a room at Oaklands College but was caught by a member of staff who asked him what he was doing.

Prosecutor Lyndsay Zalkin told the court Harper claimed he was there for an interview to become a beauty student, but ran when he was escorted to reception and was identified on CCTV.

In April he broke into a car and stole a handbag.

The court heard that when interviewed, he had said he was sorry for the damage, but claimed “if it wasn’t that car it would have been another”.

Finnbarr Cuneen, defending, said these were a “pattern of offences” and they were not “pre-planned” or “sophisticated” but were fuelled by the need to “feed the addiction”.

“He does understand the effect on the victim. He does regret his actions,” Mr Cuneen told the court.

“What is clear is he feels this really is his last chance to try and deal with his problems.”

Even though magistrates felt the crimes could easily send Harper “straight to prison”, they slapped him with a community order which includes drug rehabilitation.

Mr Zucker said: “We do feel able to suspend the sentence for a period of 24 months.”

But if Harper breaks the terms, which include a curfew between 8pm to 7am for four months and an electronic tag, he could go to prison.

He also has to pay a total of £430 compensation and a victim surcharge of £80.

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