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Burglar caught red handed raiding Cheltenham Town Hall

A burglar caught red handed as he raided Cheltenham Town Hall claimed he was looking for money to pay for his wedding.

Cheltenham Town Hall

Ben Jones, 31, of Tewkesbury rd, Cheltenham, said he needed cash so he could 'marry my Mrs.'

But district judge Joti Boparai was sceptical about his romantic claim when he appeared before Cheltenham Magistrates on Saturday and admitted the burglary, which was in breach of a suspended sentence imposed for a string of earlier raids on Cheltenham's Playhouse Theatre, a bookie's, a school, a cafe and an upmarket clothing store.

She queried what kind of wedding he could be planning during the current coronavirus restrictions. But he had no answer to her questions.

The court was told police found Jones inside the Town Hall when the alarm was raised there on May 15.

He caused £200 worth of damage to the building and stole a bag and two sets of keys.

Ben Jones

When the police went to investigate they found Jones inside and he immediately gave himself up to them, the magistrates were told

Jones admitted the non-dwelling burglary which putting him in breach of an 18-week suspended prison sentence imposed on March 25 this year.

The court was told that Jones had been convicted then of a number of non-dwelling burglaries including between December 14 and 17th last year, when he had entered a building at Inlingua Language School in Rodney Road Cheltenham and stole a bag which contained cash of a variety of currencies of unknown value.

Jones was also convicted of breaking into the Garden Cafe in Montpellier with the intention of stealing between December 28 and 31, 2019 and gaining entry into the Coral bookmakers in Bath Road between January 26 and 28, 2020 with the intention of stealing from the betting shop.

He also entered the British lifestyle brand store Joules in the Promenade on February 18 and stole clothing, watches and a cash till and drawer and cash to an unknown value.

Jones also targeted Cheltenham's Playhouse Theatre on February 22 and stole a number of charity tins and a quantity of cash, envelopes and tickets to a value unknown.

District Judge Joti Bopa Rai asked Jones: "Why were you so desperate to get married, especially as weddings are on hold during this coronavirus pandemic?"

Appearing via video link from Gloucestershire Police's custody suite, Jones declined to answer the question.

Sarah Maxwell defending said that Jones was living with his fiancée. She added: "The reason he was in the area was because he was meeting up with somebody.

"The burglary wasn't planned, it wasn't sophisticated. He describes that once inside he panicked when he knew the police were also in the building and he couldn't find another way out. Jones gave himself up to the officers when they found him.

"It was just his old habit of burgling places coming back to haunt him when he spotted an opportunity."

Judge Bopa Rai told Jones: "On March 25 I gave you the opportunity to sort your life out. And here we are seven weeks later in exactly the same position - breaking into premises and causing wanton damage.

"It costs other people a lot of money to repair the damage you caused. I can't find anything that would be unjust not to activate the suspended sentence.

"I am sentencing you to immediate custody for 17 weeks by activating your suspended sentence and an additional 18 weeks for breaking into Cheltenham Town Hall.

"That is a total of eight months in prison. You will pay £100 compensation to Cheltenham Town Hall and that will be joined with the £100 compensation order made to each of the businesses you targeted previously, except the bookmakers."

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