Church burglar jailed

A PROFILIC burglar who targeted hundreds of churches across the UK has been handed a five-year prison sentence after he was caught red-handed in Suffolk thanks to a text message.

A PROFILIC burglar who targeted hundreds of churches across the UK has been handed a five-year prison sentence after he was caught red-handed in Suffolk thanks to a text message.

Christopher Coulthard, 43, stole £2,242 after breaking into churches and prizing open donation boxes.

But his one-man crime spree ended when a builder who had signed up for Suffolk police text alerts saw him entering St Mary the Virgin Church in Santon Downham, near Brandon, and contacted officers.

The force had sent out 6,000 texts warning residents to be on the lookout under its Police Direct scheme, which was launched last August.

As well as admitting three church burglaries, Coulthard, of Bedworth, Warwickshire, also asked for 85 other church related offences to be taken into consideration.

At the time of the offences, which took place on November 17 last year, January 21 and February 14, Coulthard was on license having been released from prison.

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Ipswich Crown Court was told of Couthard's previous convictions, which were described by Judge John Holt as “appalling”.

His many convictions and numerous spells in prison spanned back to 1976. However, it was during the 90s that he began to target churches.

He was jailed for four years in January 2003 after he admitted breaking into more than 500 places of worship around the country.

Sentencing Coulthard to three concurrent five-year jail terms, Judge Holt said: “The amount stolen was a little over £2,000 but a lot of damage was done to the churches, the value of which was significantly more than you stole from donation boxes.

“You have an appalling record of burglaries over many years and it's clear that in the 1990s you discovered churches as a soft target.

“You have not learned your lesson and communities have continued to suffer at your behaviour.

“In sentencing you I will protect the public for as long as I can.”

Earlier in the hearing, the court heard from prosecution counsel Ian Pells that, on arrest, Coulthard had boasted to police that stealing from churches was his job.

Nicola Devas, for Coulthard, said her client believed the time had come for him to give up crime.

“These are extremely unpleasant offences, but this is a man who has had problems for many years,” she said.

“He has been in custody for a significant period of his life. He accepts he has become institutionalised but he says he is too old for this way of life.”

At a previous hearing at Swansea Crown Court, it emerged Coulthard armed himself with lock picks and surgical scissors in an empty camera case to disguise himself as a tourist and burgled churches and chapels at the rate of 50 a month.

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