A MAN who stole under duress to wipe out a debt escaped being sent to prison, in spite of having a suspended sentence hanging over him.
Andrew Patrick Benjamin McLoughlin appeared in custody at Harrogate Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, February 23 and pleaded guilty to stealing two bottles of vodka worth a total of £32.14 from the town’s Marks and Spencer’s store.
Prosecutor Steven Ovenden said the crime had occurred two days earlier. At 10.40am that day staff at the store had seen two men in the spirits aisle and had watched one of them pick up two bottles of vodka and hide then under his jacket.
Mr Ovenden said when police viewed CCTV footage they recognised 47-year-old McLoughlin as the culprit. They knew he was spending time at the Harrogate Homeless Project’s Springboard accommodation at Wesley House in Oxford Street and went there to arrest him on Wednesday.
In interview McLoughlin accepted he had walked through the store at the material time but denied responsibility for the theft. He said he was prepared to go before an identification parade to help establish his innocence.
Mr Ovenden told presiding magistrate Elizabeth Hesp there was no suggestion in the case file that a second man – one of them appeared to have been acting as a lookout – had been detained in connection with the theft.
The court heard there were 74 previous offences on McLoughlin’s record and that last October he had been made subject to a 24-week prison term suspended for a year for four counts of theft.
In mitigation Richard Reed said McLoughlin - who, the court heard, had come to Harrogate from Teesside to be near his partner and children who lived in the area but who had no home of his own – had been made subject to treatment for drug dependency as part of the suspended sentence order.
He had been doing very well on the order and had ‘‘produced negative results throughout.’’ His latest offence had come about after he borrowed some money and failed to repay it. He was threatened with being beaten up unless he produced two bottles of vodka.
Mr Reed said given his extensive record – and a 20-year heroin addiction – McLoughlin’s work on the drug rehabilitation requirement (DRR) could be considered good progress. There had been no positive drug tests and he had registered voluntarily with the Crime Reduction Initiative (CRI) in Harrogate.
‘‘He is anxious to continue with this order because he says it is the best way to stop him offending in the future,’’ said Mr Reed. ‘‘He acknowledges he is getting older by the day and does not relish going back into custody. Give him another opportunity for what is effectively a minor allegation of theft.’’
Duty probation officer Jane Cox told Miss Hesp McLoughlin’s offender manager on Teesside had asked for the suspended sentence to be implemented.
The court decided against such a move although Miss Hesp told McLoughlin he had come very close to seeing the prison term activated. But because of negative drug tests and registration with CRI the breach would be marked by extending his DRR by three months.
For the left he was conditionally discharged for six months with £85 costs and £32.14 compensation.