Ham-spitting serial thief handed jail term

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A serial thief who grabbed a store manager’s genitals after being detained for stealing drink and food was jailed for eight months on Wednesday.

Gary Byrne, 48 and of no fixed address, was caught shoplifting at Tesco in Belfast city centre on Tuesday – just over 24 hours after being handed a suspended prison term for a separate offence.

He also spat ham about the premises and smashed up a chair.

The university-educated defendant from the Republic pleaded guilty to new charges of theft, common assault, criminal damage and attempted criminal damage.

Byrne was detained as he tried to leave Tesco on Royal Avenue without paying for a second bottle of vodka.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard he became confrontational as they waited in a secure area for police to arrive.

A prosecution lawyer said he removed two packets of stolen ham from his clothing, began to eat it and then spit it on the floor.

“It was alleged that he reached out and grabbed the duty manager by the genitals,” he added.

Byrne then tried to break a window in the store, and threw a chair against security glass five times.

En route to a nearby police station he kicked out and caused damage to the inside of a PSNI vehicle.

A defence solicitor said Byrne had been drunk and remembers little about stealing the goods valued at £33.99 or subsequent events.

The lawyer told the court: “He is someone who has qualifications up to and including degree level.

“It’s a sad case of a struggle with alcohol.”

Byrne, who has family in the Dublin area, moved to Northern Ireland in a bid to change his behaviour, the court heard.

But District Judge Fiona Bagnall pointed out that he has committed 10 theft offences this year alone.

“We have somebody sitting with a five-month sentence, suspended for two years, given to him on Monday June 22,” she said.

“This is now Wednesday June 24, and between those two days he has stolen again, he has assaulted somebody in the process and then managed to commit criminal damage.”

Imposing three months behind bars for the latest theft, she ordered it to run consecutive to the now activated suspended sentence.

Four-month terms handed down for the assault and criminal damage will be concurrent.