Watchdog to investigate judge's 'burglary takes courage' remarks

image captionJudge Peter Bowers reportedly said he would not have "the nerve" to burgle a house

A judge who described a drug-addicted serial thief as "courageous" is to be investigated by the judicial watchdog.

Judge Peter Bowers reportedly made the remark while sentencing 26-year-old Richard Rochford for burglary.

The Teesside Crown Court judge also said he thought prison did criminals "little good".

His remarks sparked criticism and Prime Minister David Cameron said burglars were "cowards" whose "hateful crime" violated victims.

Rochford, of Westbourne Grove, Redcar, admitted two burglaries and asked for one more burglary and one attempted burglary to be taken into account.

He was given a two-year supervision order with drug rehabilitation and 200 hours' unpaid work, with a one-year driving ban.

'Not bravery'

The judge reportedly told the offender on Tuesday: "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."

He added that he "might get pilloried" for his decision, but claimed jail would not do much good in this case and said: "I'm going to take a chance on you."

A spokesperson for the Office for Judicial Complaints said it had "received a number of complaints in relation to comments that His Honour Judge Bowers made in relation to a case in Teesside Crown Court on 4 September 2012".

media captionDavid Cameron on ITV Daybreak: "Burglars should be sent to jail"

"Those complaints will be considered under the Judicial Discipline Regulations in the usual way. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage," the spokesperson said.

Speaking to ITV's Daybreak programme, Mr Cameron said: "I haven't seen the specific case.

"Judges sometimes say things that, you have to read the full context and the rest of it.

"But I'm very clear; burglary is not bravery, burglary is cowardice, burglary is a hateful crime.

"People sometimes say it is not a violent crime but, actually, if you've been burgled, you do feel it was violent, breaking into your home.

"That's why this government is actually changing the law to toughen the rules on self-defence towards burglars."

'Too lenient'

One of Rochford's victims, Mark Clayton, of Lingdale, North Yorkshire, condemned Judge Bowers' comments.

He said: "How can a man who is burgling houses be told it takes courage and be let off? He hasn't learnt anything from his mistakes.

"What is courage? I did 22 years with Her Majesty's forces. I've done a lot of things that took immense courage.

image captionRichard Rochford will undergo a drug rehabilitation course

"The judge has been too lenient towards this guy's mental state. It's hardly fair.

"I don't know anything about the prison service but I'm sure it's all about rehabilitating people. That's why it's there."

Mr Clayton said Rochford had broken into his house in the early hours, ransacked it and taken laptops, televisions and items of sentimental value.

He added: "I thought Rochford would get some sentence. He has to learn from what he's done. He can't just be let off for the crimes he's committed."

Javed Khan, chief executive of the national charity Victim Support, said burglars should be brought to justice because of the impact of their actions on victims.

"Burglary can be a traumatic experience for victims and leave long lasting scars," he said.

"It is therefore disappointing to see it being taken lightly by anyone - not least someone whose role it is to make sure offenders are brought to justice."

A Ministry of Justice Spokeswoman said: "Sentencing is purely a matter for the courts, as only they have the full facts of a case before them."

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