Professional burglar jailed

Tree surgeon raided premises across Devon and Somerset.

A professional burglar has been jailed for three years for raiding garages and sheds all over Devon and Somerset in a four year long crime campaign.

Tree surgeon Stephen Holcombe even boasted to police of taking photographs at the scenes of his crimes to show the premises had been insecure.

He broke into so many outhouses that whenever there was a spate of raids police would visit his home to see if any of the property was there, Exeter Crown Court was told.

Holcombe was jailed after he made a series of mistakes including leaving blood at the scene of a break in at a family home in Sidmouth while the owners were on holiday.

He normally targeted sheds and garages because he knew that burgling them carried lower sentences but he could not resist the lure of the luxury detached home when he found it empty.

He also left a cigarette butt with his DNA on it outside a garage he raided in Kentisbury, near Iflracombe, where it was spotted by the sharp-eyed owner and passed on to detectives.

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The serial burglar escaped justice for five years by repeatedly claiming to be ill whenever police called. He also missed several court dates for similar reasons, claiming on one occasion to have fallen from his loft ladder.

Holcombe, aged 54, of Beadon Road, Taunton, who previously lived in Till Close, Bridgwater, admitted seven burglaries and asked for 13 similar offences to be considered.

All but one of his burglaries were on outbuildings. They took place between 2007 and 2012 in Kentisbury and East Down, North Devon, Luppitt, near Honiton, Sidmouth, and various parts of Somerset including a stud farm at Wellington.

He was jailed for three years by Judge Francis Gilbert, QC, who told him: “You accept you are a professional burglar with a substantial criminal record.

“You burgled outbuildings in remote areas of Devon using bolt cutters to break through padlocks and stole power tools and equipment of considerable value.

“The dwelling house burglary in Sidmouth was committed by you alone and after a tidy search you stole property worth �1,130 and caused �300 damage.

“You went on to commit further burglaries while on bail in which you stole lawnmowers and garden equipment.”

Mr James Taghdissian, prosecuting, said the earliest offences dated back to 2007 when he broke into garages at a home in Kentisbury and another at nearby Bugford Cottages at East Down, where the owner noticed a cigarette butt on the ground from which police traced him.

He stole seven items worth �2,240 at Old Chapel House in Kentisbury and a chain saw and other gear worth �900 in East Down.

He stole items worth more than �6,000 in raids on Valley Heights and The Mill at Luppitt, one of which left a self-employed trader without the tools he needed to work with.

When police caught up with him, he claimed to be ill and, while waiting to be seen at hospital, told an officer that he only raided insecure premises and took photographs of the holes he got through in security fences to show he was committing the lesser offence of theft rather than burglary.

He later admitted breaking into the house in Sidford Hill, Sidmouth, but said he had done so after an argument with his wife.

He was already awaiting trial for all these offences when he broke into more outbuildings in Somerset, including two at Wellington, where he stole �2,400 in kit from the Ashbrittle Stud.

Mr Taghdissian said: “It is our case he is a professional burglar who travels far and wide to commit many offences.”

Mr Nicholas Fridd, defending, said Holcombe’s attempts to give up crime and make a living as a tree surgeon had been disrupted because police kept coming to interview him whenever there was a spate of shed thefts.

He said a 25-year-old who had helped Holcombe commit many of the earlier offences had been given a community order and these offences would not justify custody on their own.

He said Holcombe suffers from a genuine heart condition which would have to be treated while he was in custody.

NOTE: Copyright - Exeter Court Service.