A bungling thief tried to fish cash from a donation box – using chewing gum attached to the end of a stick.

Shofik Townsend came unstuck and ended up walking away empty handed, having been unable to retrieve any notes from the clear-sided box in the entrance to Modern Art Oxford on April 5.

CCTV played to Oxford Crown Court showed the 45-year-old granddad, who has almost 100 previous court appearances to his name, concentrating intensely as he dipped his stick into the box trying to manoeuvre a note to the top of donation point.

Prosecutors had initially charged him with theft – until it was pointed out that they had no proof he had managed to walk off with any gum-stuck goodies. He wriggled off the theft charge but pleaded guilty to an alternative count of attempted theft.

In a basis of plea, Townsend claimed the implement used to put the theft plan into action was a ‘stick with some chewing gum on it’, prosecutor James Gwatkin said on Tuesday.

The defendant was also before the court to be sentenced for stealing two bikes.

One, stolen from the side passageway of an Oxford home on June 23 last year, was a green children’s model that had cost more than £370. After it was stolen, the victim’s mum put an appeal on social media for the return of the two-wheeler. A neighbour – a former police officer – checked his CCTV and saw Townsend riding off on the bike within minutes of its theft.

The other bike was taken from racks on St Ebbes in broad daylight on November 13. Its female owner said she was ‘shocked and distressed’ by the loss of the bicycle. The thief was later identified from CCTV.

The court heard Townsend, of Cowley Road, Oxford, had 97 previous convictions for 179 offences, including more than 81 for dishonesty offences.

He had been due to stand trial at the crown court on Tuesday accused of unrelated charges of assaulting PCSOs in Oxford, but the charges were dropped by the prosecution.

Dana Bilan, mitigating, said a long-standing drug addiction lay at the heart of her client’s offending. Now a grandfather, Townsend had a traumatic childhood during which he was exposed to violence at an early age.

In a letter to the judge, the defendant set out his commitment to addressing his addiction and turning around his life.

Judge Michael Gledhill QC said he would test that commitment by deferring sentence for a month, ordering that he stay out of trouble, re-engage with the probation service and comply with an existing drug rehabilitation order.

Noting that his problems were due to drugs, the judge said: “You know it’s got to stop.”

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

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