Victim of burglar at centre of judge "courage" comment row speaks out (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Victim of burglar at centre of judge "courage" comment row speaks out
PRIME Minister David Cameron yesterday described burglars as cowards after a North-East judge sparked controversy by saying a drug-addicted serial thief was courageous.
Judge Peter Bowers’ comment is to be investigated by the Office for Judicial Complaints, which deals with complaints about the personal conduct of judges.
Disciplinary action could follow if a complaint is deemed to be justified and upheld by the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, although this is thought unlikely.
Judge Bowers, 67, who sits at Teesside Crown Court and has been on the North-East circuit since 1995, was sentencing burglar Richard Rochford on Tuesday.
He told him: “It takes a huge amount of courage, as far as I can see, for somebody to burgle somebody’s house. I wouldn’t have the nerve.”
The Northern Echo reported yesterday how the judge admitted he may be “pilloried”
for his decision to spare Rochford jail after hearing that he had turned his life around.
One of Rochford’s victims, former special forces sergeant Mark Clayton, who lives in Lingdale, east Cleveland, said: “How can a man who is burgling houses be told it takes courage and be let off?
“I did 22 years with Her Majesty’s forces and I’ve done a lot of things that took immense courage. It makes a mockery of the judicial system.”
Asked about Judge Bowers’ comment, Mr Cameron said: “I’m very clear; burglary is not bravery, burglary is cowardice, burglary is a hateful crime.”
Middlesbrough South and east Cleveland Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop said: “It’s not right to associate words like courage and bravery with the sordid reality of breaking into someone’s home, a traumatic experience for the victims.”
North-East based David Hines, chairman of the National Victims’ Association, said: “I think this judge is on a different wavelength to everyone else.”
The court heard that Rochford became damaged by a previous spell in prison when he became addicted to heroin treatment drug Subutex.
Judge Bowers told him that while he deserved to be jailed for two-and-a-half years he accepted that he had kicked his drug habit since the burglaries in February.
He followed a pre-sentence report recommendation and handed Rochford, of Redcar , a two-year supervision order with drug rehabilitation and 200 hours of unpaid work.
He was also warned that he faced a 30-month jail sentence if he appeared in court again.
Rochford had admitted two burglaries and asked for one more burglary and an attempted burglary to be taken into consideration.
Judge Bowers yesterday completed a normal day’s duties in court four at Teesside Crown Court, in Middlesbrough, locking up one defendant for 27 months after he admitted possessing a large quantity of cocaine with intent to supply.
But he made no reference to his remarks.
However, the court building was abuzz with chatter about the judge, who describes his passions as cricket, paintings and antiques and also claims in one biography of him to be an aspiring artist.
One barrister expressed sympathy for the judge, saying: “If you strip away that particular comment, he made the right decision in terms of sentence.”
Another person at the court said: “He is not stupid, he knows that what he is going to say will provoke an outcry, but he does not seem to care.”
It is not the first time Judge Bowers has caused controversy.
In January 2010, he allowed a violent thug to walk free from court, describing him as a “caring” person.
He also allowed a former Hell’s Angel who had subjected his neighbours to a campaign of terror to return to his home because he could not sell the property.
In another case Judge Bowers told a man who led police on a ten-mile car chase after trying to kill himself: “Next time you want to commit suicide find somewhere quiet to do it.”
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