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Urgent probe after criminal steals computer from court nine days after release from prison

07:57 05 June 2014

There is an urgent investigation into the theft of a computer from the Magistrates

There is an urgent investigation into the theft of a computer from the Magistrates' Court. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2011

An urgent investigation has been launched into how a habitual criminal was able to wander into a magistrates’ court while drunk and steal a computer.

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James Vale, who has more than 30 other offences on his record, struck at Norwich Magistrates’ Court last Thursday, just nine days after being released from prison for a previous conviction.

His lawyer said the 39 year old, from William Kett Close in Norwich, told unsuspecting police about the computer theft after he was arrested on suspicion of stealing two T-shirts from Primark, and mouthwash worth £3.99 from Boots, the following day.

The Courts and Tribunals Service said there was no sensitive data on the computer.

Vale admitted the thefts when he appeared before magistrates on Saturday at the same building he stole from.

Defence lawyer Alistair Taunton told the court that, “rather alarmingly”, Vale stole a piece of computer equipment of unknown value from downstairs in the court building.

He said: “The theft from here was stupid. He came here looking for a friend. He had had some alcohol. He saw it, and he took it. He took it home. He had no idea what he was going to do with it.”

He added: “He woke up the following day sober and wondered ‘What the hell have I done?’

“He was trying to work out a way to get around his error and get it back somehow, but in the end he did not have a chance to, and admitted it to the police.”

A police spokesman said Vale took a suitcase which contained a desktop computer from a court room between 4.30pm and 4.40pm on Thursday, May 29.

In mitigation, Mr Taunton told magistrates Vale had not committed any other offences since being released from prison, and was on medication for mental health problems.

He added that Vale had taken steps to move his life forward, including asking his worker at the City Reach Clinic to get him on a computer course to improve his skills and help him in the job market.

Magistrates deferred Vale’s sentencing on Saturday because the Probation Service’s computers were down, and he was yesterday jailed for 26 weeks.

A Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson said: “HM Courts and Tribunals Service takes the issue of security within courts extremely seriously and we are urgently investigating the circumstances of this incident.

“Security checks are carried out at all courts across the country to safeguard the public and to prevent illegal activity taking place on court premises. Public areas in all courts are patrolled regularly.”

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