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Penrith burglar went on stealing spree in bid to clear drug debt

Carlisle Crown Court

A Penrith burglar was detained while embarking on a rural crime spree to clear a drug debt.

Carlisle Crown Court heard outbuildings at three remote properties were targeted during the early hours of October 19.

CCTV first captured two figures – including 36-year-old Michael John Torrance – gaining entry to a building at Stoneybeck, near Penrith, before leaving with a £300 chainsaw.

Other outbuildings at Maidenhill around 2km away were then broken into, one man leaving his home to investigate after hearing a bang.

“He ran to the barn, discovered two males, one Mr Torrance,” said prosecutor Megan Tollitt.

“On shining a torch both males ran but he was able to take hold of one, the defendant, and detain him on the ground.

“Police were called by his partner and were attended thereafter.”

From a separate building nearby, hedge-cutters and a leaf blower had been removed and damage caused.

Torrance made admissions when interviewed and was said to have taken Valium due to a mental health downward spiral.

“He referred to owing a lot of money from a previous drug debt, and admitted he and the other male were out looking to steal,” said Ms Tollitt.

One householder described feeling “anxious, frustrated and annoyed”.

The prosecutor added: “He worries constantly that Mr Torrance and/or his accomplice may return one day.”

Torrance, of Norfolk Road, Penrith, admitted burglaries of the outbuildings, one with intent to steal.

The court heard of his 86 previous offences.

He had not been in prison for a decade but had been in custody since October 20, missing a child’s birthday and Christmas with his family.

“He knows he needs to do better,” said his lawyer, Marion Weir. “He is determined to do better.”

Judge Nicholas Barker suspended a 16-month jail term for two years, and ordered Torrance to complete 220 hours’ unpaid work, rehabilitation and a two-month night time curfew.

“You are fortunate today,” said the judge. “It is my hope that this will be the last time that you appear before the courts.”

Torrance replied: “Mine as well.”

But Judge Barker warned: “If you are stupid enough not to do so, you can expect the full weight of the court to be used on the next occasion.”

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