Woman died in downstairs toilet on night burglar targeted her property

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A 26-year old man who carried out a spate of burglaries, including at the home of a north Belfast woman who passed away on the night he targeted her property, was jailed on Tuesday.

Marc Samuel Spencer was handed a three-year sentence and was banned from driving for two and a half years after he admitted the crime spree last February.

Judge Stephen Fowler QC told Spencer that while he accepted there was no confrontation with the occupant, his actions and the invasion of privacy compounded the pain of an already grieving family.

Spencer, who at the time of his offending last February was residing at Centenary House on Belfast’s Victoria Street, said he had no recollection of the spate of break-ins as he was under the influence of drugs at the time.

He admitted 16 offences including burglary, attempted burglary, three counts of aggravated vehicle taking and dangerous driving. He will serve half his sentence in prison, with the remaining half of his sentence on licence.

Before passing his sentence, Judge Fowler QC was told that Spencer’s crime spree involved creeper-style burglaries and attempted burglaries where he stole car keys from properties then took the owner’s vehicles.

Crown barrister James Johnston said that some time between 10pm on February 11, 2018 and before 3am the following morning, Spencer broke into a house at Lismoyne Park. The male occupant had gone to bed and left his wife watching TV downstairs.

After breaking into the house and stealing the woman’s handbag, car keys and car, the Hyundai Spencer stole failed to stop for police on the Ballysillan Road at 2.50am. When police called to the family home to alert them to the car theft, it emerged that the female occupant had passed away in a downstairs toilet.

Mr Johnston revealed that after a post mortem was conducted, the cause of death “was not related to the defendant ... it was entirely natural under the circumstances.” He also said there was “no suggestion by the prosecution that the defendant would have seen or known the deceased was in that room.”

The barrister added that the break-in occurring and the woman’s car and handbag being stolen the night she died “heightens sensitivities to the family.”

Mr Johnston said the keys to the stolen Hyundai were found by police the following day hidden in a toilet in the hostel where Spencer was staying, wrapped in woollen gloves which bore Spencer’s DNA.

On February 11, the occupant of a second property at Lismoyne Park was in bed at 2am and heard a loud noise. She didn’t investigate, but later that morning discovered a broken window pain.

The Crown believe Spencer tried to break into this house, before moving into the house opposite where he stole the Hyundai.

The following day, Spencer stayed with a friend, and during the early hours of February 13, he stole her car, drove it round Belfast, and caused damage to the Renault. And at 10pm on February 14, Spencer opened the front door of a house at Cedar Grove in Holywood.

He left after being challenged, but a short time later he targeted a second house on the same street. The occupant heard the front door open, and when she went to her door, she saw her Vauxhall being reserved from the driveway and driven off.

Spencer drove the stolen car to a filling station in Holywood, and was caught on CCTV putting £30 of petrol in the car which he didn’t pay for.

Mr Johnston said the Vauxhall was later found on the Hightown Road, close to a burglary at a house at Blackrock Park, where Spencer stole an Audi. He was stopped by police in this car on the Ballysillan Road at 11.20pm, and rammed the police vehicle as he tried to escape.

He was arrested and during interview gave a ‘no comment’ response, with Mr Johnston saying Spencer had a relevant criminal record.

Defence barrister Michael Loughrey said Spencer wanted to convey his “unreserved apology” to the family of the deceased, and said the remorse he has since expressed was genuine and “not an empty gesture.”

The barrister continued: “He also wishes to convoy an unreserved apology to everyone who has been affected by his offending over those relevant days, and this is extended to the police involved in arresting him and all the homeowners who have been affected by his actions, and in particular the family of the deceased.”

Mr Loughrey said Spencer couldn’t remember what he did as he was under the influence of drugs at the time - but had admitted his guilt. The barrister also said that whilst in custody, Spencer has attended a Victim Impact Programme which has enabled him to “examine his behaviour.”

Saying there was “no explanation for what he did”, Mr Loughrey said Spencer’s abuse of drugs since his teenage years had “degraded his life for a significant period.”

Mr Loughrey also spoke of a “glimmer of hope” and said Spencer has passed all recent drug tests in jail.