Does burglary ‘take courage’ or is it just a despicable crime?
Victims and Prime Minister criticise judge who spared a burglar two-and-a-half years in prison
PRIME MINISTER David Cameron has slammed a judge who told a burglar he had showed "courage" in raiding three homes.
Judge Peter Bowers freed serial intruder Richard Rochford who was facing a two-and-a-half-year jail term because he said prison "very rarely does anybody any good".
Rochford, 26, who had burgled three homes in East Cleveland to feed a drug addiction, was instead given a suspended 12-month jail sentence, a two-year supervision order with drug rehabilitation, 200 hours' unpaid work and a one-year driving ban.
Passing sentence at Teesside Crown Court, Judge Bowers reportedly told him: 'It takes a huge amount of courage as far as I can see for someone to burgle somebody's house. I wouldn't have the nerve. Yet somehow, bolstered by drugs and desperation, you were prepared to do that."
Judge Bowers is to be investigated by the Office for Judicial Complaints.
David Hines, chairman of the National Victims' Association, described the comments as "outrageous" and asked: "What message does this send out to society?"
"The criminal justice system has let the victims down," he told the Daily Mail. "Burglars are going to believe that judges think they are courageous. I think this judge is on a different wavelength to everyone else."
One of Rochford's victims, 47-year-old Army veteran Mark Clayton, said the judge had made a "grave misjudgement". Clayton, who had served in Afghanistan and Bosnia, said: "Picking dead bodies up after they've been blown up, to go into that takes courage. Walking into someone's house on an opportunistic whim and basically devastating someone's life by taking things that man has worked so hard for all his life, and taking it away without a thought, isn't courage."
Speaking on ITV's Daybreak this morning, the Prime Minister was of a similar view. Admitting that he had been burgled twice, he said he was “very clear” that ”burglary is not bravery, it's cowardice".
"You feel completely violated when someone has smashed their way into your house," he said. "Burglary is a despicable and hateful crime. People sometimes say it is not a violent crime, but actually if you have been burgled, you do feel it was violence.”
He added: "I am very clear that people who repeatedly burgle should be sent to prison."
On this point, The Guardian’s Michael White had some words of support for the judge’s decision. Bower is "more right than wrong about prison, where rehabilitation programmes become harder the more crowded the system is”, he wrote.
"Whether he was right to give Rochford a second chance, only time will tell. And we will probably only get to hear about it if he's proved wrong and the law and order tabloids have a chance to get excited all over again."