Robber told: Think of your children – will they be thieves too?

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A father of three who claimed he was “raised” as a robber was told today to stop using his bad upbringing as an excuse for criminality, and to consider what kind of role model he is for his children.

Thomas Stokes, whose address was given as HMP Maghaberry, was handed a two-year sentence for offences committed in Belfast in October 2016.

Handing the 28-year old a two year sentence - which she divided between six months in prison and 18 months on licence - Judge Patricia Smyth told Stokes this was his “last chance” to prove he can change.

A previous court hearing was told that on October 5, 2016 a house on the Upper Newtownards Road was broken into. Entry was gained by smashing a rear window and 70 euros was stolen.

Details of a car acting suspiciously in the area were passed on to police, who saw the same car the following day stopped at a red light in Clifton Street. When Stokes, who was driving the car, spotted police he reserved the Ford Focus and drove off at speed.

A police chase ensued with Stokes driving dangerously, which forced other motorists to swerve to avoid him. He finally came to a stop at Cliftonville Street, after mounting a footpath. Stokes then ran from the vehicle, but was chased by police and quickly detained.

Despite his initial refusal to answer police questions during interview, Stokes later pleaded guilty to five offences, including burglary and dangerous driving.

During her sentencing at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Smyth said burglary was a “serious offence” which warranted punishment, adding Stokes driving on roads in the city the way he did “put innocent lives at risk.”

Highlighting Stokes criminal record of 23 previous offences, the Judge said that she accepted his upbringing led him to crime, that he had no positive roles models in his life and that he himself told Probation he was “raised as a thief and robber.”

Handing Stokes the sentence, Judge Smyth said: “You are now an adult and you have adult responsibilities. You are now the father of three children, so you can no longer rely on your upbringing as an excuse for your criminal behaviour.

“Whether you are going to be a role model for your children, or whether they are going to grow up to be robbers also. I think you should consider that very carefully.”

Judge Smyth said the extended period on licence would allow Stokes to engage in drugs and counselling programmes, and also warned he would be subject to random drugs tests during the 18-month period on licence.