In court: Motorway sign metal theft ‘completely rejected’ community order

MHBG-10-01-13 Leamington Spa Magistrates Court''Justice Centre, Newbold Terrrace, Leamington Spa,Warwickshire .'Picture By: Jass Lall.
MHBG-10-01-13 Leamington Spa Magistrates Court''Justice Centre, Newbold Terrrace, Leamington Spa,Warwickshire .'Picture By: Jass Lall.

A man involved in a £70,000 metal theft spree targetting wires inside safety signs at the Catthorpe Interchange ‘completely rejected’ a community order he was given, a court heard last week.

Michael Murray, 26, of Schofield Road, Kingshurst, Solihull, escaped joining two co-defendants in jail earlier this year because of the time he had already spent in custody, and was instead given a community sentence. But Warwick Crown Court heard that Murray had failed to comply with a Thinking Skills programme as part of his sentence.

So the order was revoked and, after being remanded in custody for 11 days, Murray was given a new 12-month community sentence and ordered to do 100 hours of unpaid work. Judge Marten Coates had heard that Murray and two other men, Kray Cotton, 22, of Wharf Lane, Solihull, and Matthew Houghton, 24, of Trent Drive, Castle Bromwich, had pleaded guilty to stealing a quantity of Highways Agency signal cable.

The charge followed the theft of cabling for ‘variable message signs’ on the M6 at the Catthorpe interchange near Rugby on five occasions between August 26 and September 6 last year, cutting off power to the signs at the busy junction. On each occasion the cable was cut and the outer sheath stripped off before the copper core was taken and sold for scrap. And the thefts created a potential danger not only for motorway users because the signs were put out of action, but also to engineers who had to repair the exposed cable.

On September 5 officers on patrol saw Houghton’s Ford Focus in a field close to where the cabling to the sign runs, so kept an eye on it for about an hour.

They then saw the three men heading back to the car, with one of them dragging something heavy which was put into the boot before they drove off.

The police stopped the car, and found a large amount of stripped cable in the boot, and more in a farmyard nearby.

Although the spate of thefts had involved more than 600 metres of cable, costing more than £70,000 to replace, mobile phone analysis showed Murray had only been present on that last occasion. And in March Cotton (22) of Wharf Lane, Solihull, and Houghton (24) of Trent Drive, Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, were both jailed for 21 months.

Murray, who Judge Coates said deserved a 15-month sentence but had already spent six months on remand in custody, was given a community order instead.

But prosecutor Ian Speed said Murray had ‘completely rejected’ the order by failing to comply with the Thinking Skills programme.

Jane Sarginson, defending, explained: “The difficulty Mr Murray has is that he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

“He finds sitting in a classroom listening to people talking to him very difficult, although he accepts he could have made more of an effort.”

Making a new community sentence with unpaid work, Judge Coates told him: “Initially, on the face of it you threw back at the court the chance I had given you, but you have since spent more time on remand.”