Breaking crime cycle was team effort

A SPIRALLING drug habit and an unenviable list of convictions spanning two decades, described Simon Thurlow's life. But today the 35-year-old Ipswich dad says he has finally broken free of perpetual offending and substance misuse, after managing to secure a job and a brighter future.

A SPIRALLING drug habit and an unenviable list of convictions spanning two decades, described Simon Thurlow's life. But today the 35-year-old Ipswich dad says he has finally broken free of perpetual offending and substance misuse, after managing to secure a job and a brighter future. JOSH WARWICK reports.

SIMON Thurlow's lengthy list of previous convictions reads like a criminal's A to Z.

His desperate cycle of offending has included fraud, theft, hard drug possession, criminal damage and much, much more. His crimes left his relationship with his son, now aged ten, hanging by a thread.

Thrown into prison in his teens, Simon quickly adapted to the criminal lifestyle and it wasn't long before he was hooked on heroin and crack. But today, Simon is on the road to a crime and drug-free future thanks to a new initiative launched by police and probation - and his own determination to change his ways.

Simon, of Dover Road, said: “I was in trouble from a very early age, although it was just mischief to start with. When I got to 16 or 17 I was the co-defendant in a case where a lot of cars got smashed up. The judge put nine of us in prison for a week-and-a-half. It scared a few of them but not me; I thought I was 'the man' because I had been inside.

“I lost my job and I quickly got involved with the wrong sort of people. Before long I was getting involved in more serious trouble and I ended up going back to prison but for a bit longer. Then came the drugs.

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“The only way of getting money quickly was crime and I wasn't scared of going to prison because I had been there before and I knew what it was all about. And when you get involved in hard drugs you will do whatever it takes to get money. I was taking everything - heroin, crack, ecstasy, mushrooms. I can't think of many drugs I haven't taken.”

His criminal exploits have been well documented in the pages of The Evening Star over the years, including the court case which led to his life-changing spell behind bars.

In 2005 when Simon was working as a carpenter, he blew a fortnight's wages on drugs, before he was stopped by police who discovered £1,200 worth of heroin on him. At court, he admitted possessing drugs, and also pleaded guilty to handling a stolen chequebook and using it to obtain around £4,500 of goods and cash by deception - money later squandered on more drugs.

The judge, who was told Simon had 34 previous convictions for 72 offences of theft, possession of drugs and driving matters, issued a 26-month jail term. That sentence finally set the wheels in motion for a law-abiding future.

Simon said: “When I went to prison in 2005 as a prolific offender, I had a drug history and a massive criminal record. I had been involved in crime, drugs and prison for nearly 20 years by that stage.

“My whole lifestyle was wrapped around offending and taking drugs, it was all I could think about.

“When you go to prison you get the chance to reflect on the things that have had a big impact on you and I began to realise that enough was enough, it couldn't go on.

“This time everything seemed right and there were lots of factors which helped me to change my ways.

“I damaged a lot of people along the way. My parents suffered, and I have a ten-year-old son who I have neglected. I am his dad and I haven't been able to be the person he looks up to.”

When he left prison in November last year, Simon was approached by the Persistent and Other Priority Offender team (POPO) with the offer of help. The team, made up of two probation officers, a police liaison officer and an NHS Drug Intervention Programme worker, helped put Simon through a safety course which has paved the way for him to work on the railways.

Simon, who has also turned to religion since his release, now works fulltime for Gamble Rail, based in Colchester. He also has a growing painting and decorating business, which he set up while he was waiting to take the course.

And his relationship with his son is blooming.

He said: “I see my son every week and I pay money to his mum. It's brilliant to be able to do that.

“Not everyone will succeed. I have girlfriend and a support network, but not everyone is so fortunate. A lot of people come out of prison not knowing what to do. I see them standing outside the job centre and they can't get off the ladder.

“But you have to put the effort in yourself - and this initiative gives you the opportunity to help yourself.”

Detective chief inspector Louisa Pepper, who is part of the POPO team, said Simon's amazing turn around was inspiring others: “Simon is one of our success stories and now others are seeing the good work and thinking 'I want to be like that'.

“Simon was helped throughout the criminal justice process. He was helped to find the training to get into the vocation he wanted. Now he is working, paying tax and is part of the community.

“It's very positive when you see someone like Simon coming out the other end.”

Simon added: “It's made a massive difference. If I didn't have a job my life would be so different. I would be involved in the same old life with the same old people. My life now is wrapped around the fact that I have a job. It's the cornerstone of my life now and the reason I don't commit crime.

“Probation workers have been brilliant. They have been the mainstay for me. They have put so much effort in to help me.

“My life is golden now, it's never been so good.

“I look out of the window and appreciate the sun shining on the trees. Every day is another reason to be happy.”

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A government initiative launched in 2004 which allows police, probation and various partnership agencies to help prolific offenders break free from the cycle of crime.

Detective chief inspector Louisa Pepper said: “It has allowed us to say 'these are the people causing us the most problems, this is what we can do help offenders make the right choices'.

“We set up the project a year ago within the Ipswich borough and it supports the offenders throughout the criminal justice process. But they are not spoon fed, it's an intensive process. They will get a knock on their door if they miss an appointment and asked why they are not where they should be.

“The idea is to get some self respect and become a part of the community.”

The scheme is currently working with 27 people.

Allison Squirrell is coordinator of a Drug Intervention Programme (DIP) at the Suffolk Drug and Alcohol Action Team.

She said: “The local NHS trust DIP is a Home Office initiative aimed at getting Class A drug users out of crime and in to treatment. It ensures that a drug-using offender can access help and support at any stage of their involvement in the criminal justice system, be it police custody, local courts, probation or prison.

“It also provides one-to-one support and motivation. For example, a former offender leaving prison might be collected from there by a DIP worker. They might be given prescriptions for medicines to help them detox off illegal drugs and given help finding somewhere to live.”

If necessary the former offender can be referred to other treatment services, as well as given access to employment, education and training and leisure activities.