Judge admits people will be surprised as he frees burglar
A CAREER criminal who admitted burgling 21 homes has been spared jail after he convinced a judge he was a reformed character.
The judge, recorder Robin Belben, told Martin Harris: "A lot of right-thinking people will think: 'What are you doing? He should be going to prison'.
"But if there is one person who has turned their life around and it is worthwhile trying to encourage, then it is you."
Harris, 53, confessed to breaking into homes in and around Plymouth over two years, escaping with valuables including jewellery worth thousands of pounds.
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He drove around streets at night trying to see which lights were off so he could target empty homes, police said.
Harris had a long record for burglary with offences going back to 1972, Plymouth Crown Court heard.
But the judge, who admitted he had gone into court with a long jail term in mind, gave him a community order instead of a jail sentence.
Harris, of Brentford Avenue, Whitleigh, admitted a single burglary in Plympton in May.
pleaded guilty to taking jewellery, a vase, a handbag, bank cards and paperwork of an unknown value in a burglary in Revell Park Road.
But he asked for 20 other offences of domestic burglary to be taken into consideration.
Alistair Verheijen, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said Harris was arrested in the early hours of May 24.
He said a neighbour who had heard a noise called the police who saw him dropping a bag of valuables over a wall into a garden.
Mr Verheijen said the owners of the home had at the time been in separate care homes.
He read a statement from the woman's niece, saying the offence was "extremely distressing" for her aunt.
Jo Martin, for Harris, said he had been working with the Hamoaze House and Harbour drug agencies since May.
She added: "His engagement on relapse prevention programmes had been exceptional".
Miss Martin said he was now taking the anticoagulant drug warfarin which would stop him drinking and smoking.
Dc Kevin Giles, who works with prolific offenders, said that the 20 burglaries would not have been solved without the confession from Harris.
He added: "He was under financial pressure and he went back to doing what he had always done."
Dc Giles said outside court Harris had been driving around streets, mostly in villages outside Plymouth, seeing which houses had their lights on at about 9pm or 10pm. He would return later to the dark homes, targeting jewellery in particular.
Recorder Belben admitted his sentence was "exceptional".
He gave him a two-year community order with a six-month electronically-tagged curfew between 7pm and 7am.
The judge said he would not impose a suspended prison sentence, but it would tie the hands of a future court.
But he vowed if Harris was convicted of another offence he would be "locked up for a long time".