2:10pm Thursday 11th April 2013
A JUDGE was so angry with a man caught stealing heating oil from a village hall that he feared he would over-react and send him to jail.
District judge Nigel Cadbury was so incensed by the thief, who attempted to steal the oil from Peopleton village hall, near Pershore, that he said he did not trust himself to sentence him fairly and left the job to another court.
Mr Cadbury, whose wife works for a different village hall committee, ordered the case, which was being heard in court one of Worcester Magistrates Court, to be transferred to court four to be heard by a bench of magistrates instead.
The Worcester News has already reported how heating oil thefts have become a huge problem across the Vale of Evesham with more than 5,400 litres stolen since early January.
The stolen heating oil is being sold on the black market.
Mr Cadbury said: “My wife is on a small village hall committee. I feel very strongly about this sort of behaviour.
“Village halls struggle to survive and raise enough money to keep themselves going.
“This sort of theft can put an end to a village hall’s existence.
“If this happened in my village hall it would not surprise me if the village hall had to be closed down.
“I don’t think I should therefore deal with this case. He planned this. He had a van. It had some sophistication.
“He had the equipment and he travelled from Gloucester to this area.
“There are clear indications of professionalism – it involved planning and it was carried out in the middle of the night.
“I feel I would over-react and consider that he should undoubtedly go to prison for this. It would be wrong for me to sentence him. I may be seen to be biased.”
Robert Lee, of Streamside, Tuffley, Gloucester, admitted theft after he was caught stealing hea-ting oil from the hall on March 18.
Kerry Lovegrove, prosecuting, said police were called at 2am where they found the van with the back doors open. Fuel pumps and fuel containers were also found at the scene. A padlock had been damaged, as had the fuel container.
Miss Lovegrove said: “He stated that he had taken it, he would pay for it and put it back.
“The police have assisted in putting the fuel back in the tank to make sure that the village hall had fuel for the following day.”
Chris Bull, chairman of the bench in court four, said he would give the 42-year-old credit for his early guilty plea and for his co-operation with police at the scene and had listened to what had been said by his solicitor, Nik Cooper, in mitigation.
He said: “You were caught red-handed. This was a planned act that targeted a village that is not on the way to anywhere. You will be aware that this is a prevalent offence in this county and in rural areas.”
He gave Lee a 12-month community order to include 150 hours of unpaid work and ordered him to pay costs of £85 and a victim surcharge of £60.
Even though the fuel was recovered, Mr Bull said there was a high possibility that it had been contaminated and so he ordered Lee to pay £525.65 to the village hall committee for the fuel and £48.58 for the damage caused during the attempted theft.
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