Burglar targetted Suffolk churches

A PROLIFIC burglar who raided 517 churches across England and Wales – including 32 in Suffolk – has been jailed for four years.Christopher Coulthard, 40, staked out his targets dressed as a tourist and carried tools for breaking into the churches in a camera bag.

A PROLIFIC burglar who raided 517 churches across England and Wales – including 32 in Suffolk – has been jailed for four years.

Christopher Coulthard, 40, staked out his targets dressed as a tourist and carried tools for breaking into the churches in a camera bag.

He had £2,450 cash when he was eventually caught and drove a car bought for £1,900 with the proceeds of his crimes, Swansea Crown Court heard yesterday.

Despite being a one-man crimewave, who committed an average of two break-ins a day over nine months, most raids went undetected.


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The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Coulthard, from Bedworth, Warwickshire, struck 32 times at churches in Suffolk, but officials could not specify individual offences.

The burglar was investigated for more than 20 further burglaries in the county and Suffolk police said last night they were waiting to hear from the CPS which raids he had confessed to.

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Coulthard literally covered his tracks by throwing away shoes he wore during a break-in and carried a duster to wipe away fingerprints.

When he was arrested he made a "'full and frank" confession and later even advised police on how to improve church security.

He was caught in Aberystwyth, west Wales, in September after a local cleric reported him to police after growing suspicious. Detectives traced his car and tracked him down to a hotel in the town where they discovered maps showing his meticulously planned break-ins.

Judge Vivien Manning-Davies heard how most of Coulthard's crimes were committed in the nine months to last September.

Coulthard admitted 15 cases of burglary and one of attempted burglary and asked for 502 others to be taken into account. He targeted charity boxes and broke into safes but many break-ins were so well planned nobody knew he had ever been there.

James Jenkins, for Coulthard, said: "If you want to see it in religious terms he has made a good confession."

Catherine Richards, prosecuting, said Coulthard had targeted churches in North Yorkshire, the Midlands, Gloucester, Herefordshire, East Anglia, Devon, Cornwall and all over Wales.

He travelled from town to town staying in small hotels and visiting churches marked on Ordnance Survey maps to size them in advance.

He escaped with up to £600 a time, targeting collection boxes, and listing churches on a map, with terms like "rich pickings", which were ripe for a second attempt. Miss Richards said he would not target churches in towns for fear of being recorded on CCTV.

Judge Manning-Davies said pre-sentence reports showed Coulthard had been a burglar since he was 13 and branded the offences "shocking" and "disgusting". He said: "Thousands of people must have been affected by your offences. It seems to me that no place of worship is safe from you."

The judge said he acknowledged Coulthard had never stolen church artefacts and had freely admitted hundreds of similar break-ins which would otherwise have been undetected. He jailed Coulthard for four years for the 15 separate break-ins and for two years, to run concurrently, for the attempted break-in.

After the hearing, Owain Richards, of Dyfed Powys Police, said: "It was really shocking. The numbers involved and the geographical area was immense."

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