A man who stole money from the purse of a 91-year old woman whose home he targeted in an early morning burglary was handed a two-year sentence on Thursday.
Gareth Thomas Cotter, who appeared at Belfast Crown Court with 65 convictions on his criminal record including five previous burglaries, entered the pensioner’s home at around 3am on Monday July 11 last year.
After he was confronted by the elderly occupant and asked to leave, 27-year old Cotter walked out the front door of her home on Belfast’s Chichester Avenue.
Sentencing Cotter, Judge Patricia Smyth said that whilst he entered the occupied property in the middle of the night, she accepted it was an “unsophisticated burglary” and that “no planning was involved.”
Judge Smyth said: “You immediately left her home when she confronted you and you made no further attempt to cause her any further distress that she had already suffered by finding an intruder in her property.”
Cotter, who at the time of the offence was living at Dingwell Park in Lurgan, was informed he will spent half of the sentence in prison, followed by a 12-month period on licence when he is released.
Before she handed Cotter the sentence, Judge Smyth was told by Crown prosecutor Mark Farrell that the 91-year old victim was woken from her sleep by a noise in her sitting room. When she went down to investigate, she saw a male in the sitting room looking through drawers of a wooden unti.
She noticed the intruder was holding her purse, prompting her to the say “you have got what you came for ... please go.” Cotter then put the purse down, walked passed the pensioner and out the front door, taking around £60 in notes and coins with him.
Police arrived and following a forensic examination, Cotter’s fingerprints were located on a window at the back of the house.
Defence solicitor John Burke revealed his client had “no recollection” of the burglary, adding it was clear this incident was a “very amateurish and non-professional.”
Mr Burke said vagrancy was behind a majority of Cotter’s offending, telling the court: “Really since Mr Cotter turned 17, ten years ago, he has spent considerable periods of time living rough and homeless, being shunted from homelessness to hostel accommodation. This led to him breaking into derelict premises on occasions.”
The solicitor spoke of his client’s troubled childhood, which included “drug abuse in the parental home”, but said he accepted Cotter has “done nothing to help himself.”
Mr Burke also said Cotter did not deliberately target the home of a pensioner, and said thankfully the woman seemed “emotionally robust.”