A prolific house burglar took full advantage of a prison service mistake which led to him being freed after serving a short sentence for theft – to carry out more break-ins.
But as soon as a police officer investigating David Sutherland’s latest offences discovered he was unexpectedly at large, he became the number one suspect.
Sutherland had been remanded in custody when he appeared in the magistrates’ court at the beginning of June to face three charges of burglary.
They had to be sent to Warwick Crown Court because he was a ‘third strike’ burglar – but the magistrates dealt with him for the theft of a cycle, and jailed him for four weeks.
But a mistake by the prison service led to his release on June 14 after serving half of that sentence, rather than remaining in custody on the burglary offences, said prosecutor Ian Ball.
And over the space of a weekend he committed a further eight break-ins before being re-arrested.
When Sutherland (47) previously from Southam, but of no fixed address, appeared at the crown court he pleaded guilty to three charges of burglary and asked for 24 more to be considered.
But the case was adjourned for him to be charged with three of them - and at a further hearing he pleaded guilty to those as well and was jailed for five years and four months.
Mr Ball said the total value of items taken in the series of raids at homes in Leamington was around £20,000 – with laptop computers being his favoured target.
They were all day-time burglaries, with windows being smashed or forced open to gain entry, leaving behind traces of his DNA on several occasions, although in some he took advantage of windows being left partly open because of the hot weather.
Of the offences Sutherland pleaded guilty to, the first was on May 15 when he broke into the vicarage in St Marks Road, Leamington, while the vicar was out, and stole her i-Pad and an Apple MacBook laptop.
And Deputy Judge Richard Griffith-Jones observed: “She could have had material on that which was highly confidential and represented huge confidences.”
Three days later a CCTV camera showed Sutherland looking into a ground-floor flat in Union Street, before later leaving through the front door with a bag containing goods worth £1,000.
On May 24 a student got back to a shared house in Willes Terrace, Leamington, and realised an Apple laptop belonging to one of his housemates had been taken.
Mr Ball pointed out that the loss has had ‘a catastrophic effect’ on the victim, who said it had held 22 years of priceless family photos, three years of university work, and documents containing confidential information.
The next day Sutherland used a golf club to smash a window at a house in Portland Place East, from where he took a MacBook, a camera and a purse – but left behind the club on which his DNA was found.
Then on May 29 he forced a sash window which had been screwed shut to get into a flat in Dale Street, from where he stole an Apple MacBook, another laptop and a digital camera.
He was arrested for that burglary, and the ones in Union Street and Willes Terrace, two days later, and those matters were sent to the crown court by the magistrates who jailed him for a bike theft.
After being mistakenly released on June 14, he carried out eight more burglaries, including one at student accommodation in Greatheed Road, from where he stole a laptop and an i-Pad.
After Dc Tim Mahoney discovered that Sutherland was at large, he realised it was likely that he was responsible, and he was traced and arrested, said Mr Ball.
It was then that, during a ‘drive-round,’ Sutherland, who had 105 offences on his record including many burglaries, pointed out the other addresses he had burgled or attempted to break into.
Chloe Ashley, defending, said the offences were motivated by Sutherland’s need for money to feed an addiction to class A drugs which he had had since he was just 13.
Jailing Sutherland, Judge Griffith-Jones told him: “You have been sentenced for an offence of burglary previously to four years, and you have had non-custodial sentences, but nothing has detracted you from intensive attacks on people’s homes.
“You say you did it to satisfy a drug craving, but you can’t prioritise your need for drugs over all those people whose homes you have burgled.
“The time has come for people around here to have a rest from your actions, and to give you a good long time to tackle your personal problems.”