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Gloucestershire Business News

Angry judge blasts police and prosecution service

An angry judge has blasted the police and the Crown Prosecution Service after hearing that a prolific shoplifter kept on re-offending because each time he was arrested he was freed again without being charged or taken before the courts.

Judge Julian Lambert said it 'beggars belief' that Richard Stapleton, 40, of Linden Road, Gloucester, was able to commit offences from April 2019 to June last year and only now be appearing in court.

He criticised the current police practice of releasing suspects 'under investigation' rather than charging them immediately and taking them before a magistrates court at the earliest opportunity. The practice was bringing the justice system into disrepute, he suggested.

"I have observed that there has been a substantial delay in getting these cases to the court," said Judge Lambert at Gloucester Crown Court as he heard details of the 10 charges Stapleton admitted.

Prosecutor Naomi Aylwin said Stapleton's original offences in April 2019 had been referred from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service in October that year. However, a charging decision was not made by the CPS until April 2020 - by which time Stapleton had committed 7 more offences.

Even then his offending did not end - he stole again from a shop in June last year and was charged with a further theft in November although he has denied that charge and is awaiting a magistrates court trial.

Judge Lambert said angrily: "If I worked in a shop and I saw somebody who had been released under investigation by the police time after time only for them to keep on stealing I would think there was something wrong with the justice system.

"In this instance we have somebody who stole from a shop in January 2020. And again in January, February and again in February, March and then more in April and in June.

"But Stapleton is not then brought before the courts until now, 2021!

"This situation beggars belief in that he has been repeatedly released time and time again under investigation, without ever being charged.

"It didn't used to be this way. If somebody was caught stealing, they were taken to a magistrates court to appear at the next available hearing.

"I can't see how this current practice of releasing people under investigation and waiting for a charging decision to be made is good for justice. It brings the whole process into disrepute.

"This is a most straightforward case. When I say straightforward, I don't mean trivial - it is what it is, straightforward. It is not complicated.

"If all that sounded like a diatribe...well, good!"

Ms Aylwin added: "His first offences were committed on April 24th 2019 when Stapleton and a woman accomplice were spotted acting suspiciously in B&Q by security officers. As the pair were leaving the store they were challenged and Stapleton pulled a Stanley knife from his pocket.

"The police were contacted and when the pair were located the knife was found on his co-defendant, along with screwdrivers that meant he was going equipped for theft.

"The next set of theft offences in time were committed during the first three months of 2020, along with two offences of possessing Class A drugs.

"The shoplifting spree began on January 18th 2020 when Stapleton stole £131.25 worth of food and alcohol products from Marks & Spencer. These items were not recovered.

"The next set of offences were on January 31, when Stapleton and his co-defendant stole £31 worth of goods from Asda, items which were not recovered.

At the same store on February 4th the pair stole alcohol, perfume and chocolates to the value of £153. These items were recovered when police located Stapleton and recovered a rucksack containing the stolen items. He also had one wrap of heroin in his possession.

"The next offences occurred on February 26, when Stapleton stole £141 worth of shoes from Clarks in Gloucester and on March 1, along with his co-defendant, he stole £65 worth of shoes from the same store, but on this occasion they left in a hurry as they had been spotted by the store's security officers.

"Stapleton was arrested three days later and when he was searched he was found to have a wrap of heroin on him."

The court was told that each time Stapleton was arrested, he made no comment in reply to police questions.

The prosecutor added that Stapleton and his co-defendant were then arrested on April 17 when they were spotted by security staff at Home Bargains stuffing medicinal items valued at £26.76 into their pockets. They were detained by the store's staff until the police arrived. The items were recovered and returned to the store.

"The final offence was committed on June 16 last year at Tesco when Stapleton had removed the security tags on a number of products to the value of £37 and walked out of the store without attempting to pay for the items," said Ms Aylwin.

"Stapleton was identified by security officers on the store's CCTV system and was subsequently arrested by police."

Judge Lambert commented: "Stapleton has covered most aspects of the criminal calendar. He is effectively a specialist thief with minimal sophistication. It is obvious he is stealing to fund his deep-seated drug addiction. The total value of the seven cases of theft before me is £585.02."

Sarah Jenkins, defending said: "Stapleton's lifestyle is far from glamorous. His money goes to feed his drug addiction. He has a chaotic life which is the nature of his offending.

"He pleaded guilty to all these charges at the lower court at the first opportunity in December last year.

"This is where he was confronted with all his offending. And because of the amount of offending he was remanded in custody by the magistrates.

"He has been using his time effectively in prison and taken the hard route to stop taking drugs without the use of medical intervention. He is now completely free of drugs."

The judge turned down an application to impose a criminal behaviour order on Stapleton. He said the prosecution had plenty of time to prepare this earlier and it should not have been presented to the court on the day of sentencing.

Stapleton pleaded guilty at Cheltenham Magistrates Court on December 18,th 2020 to going equipped for theft, possession of a Stanley knife in public, thefts of food perfume and alcohol from M&S, two thefts from Asda, two thefts of shoes from Clarks and thefts from Home Bargains and Tesco. He also admitted two charges of possession of heroin.

Judge Lambert told Stapleton: "You have previous 37 convictions for 70 offences. You have two previous weapon offences. In the past community orders have been tried and have failed.

"You now have to be dealt with for a spree of stealing from shops. It's not your fault you have been released time and time again under investigation.

"However in times past, as I explained earlier, you would have appeared before the courts and received the appropriate sentence.

"Looked at individually, these offences do not command a custodial sentence. But because of the cumulative aspect of your offending, combined with all your previous convictions, a custodial sentence is inevitable, as you were so persistent."

The judge jailed Stapleton for 18 months and ordered the forfeiture of the drugs and knife.

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