Exmouth cat-flap burgler caught red-handed sent to prison

PUBLISHED: 06:30 05 November 2015 | UPDATED: 10:12 05 November 2015

Mark Clarke

Mark Clarke

Archant

A cat flap burglar has been jailed after he was caught red-handed as he prodded a pole into a kitchen and tried to hook out a purse.

Exeter Crown Court heard Mark Clarke had been using the same method to break into homes for 30 years, but was caught with his arms through the cat flap at a house in Exeter, after the owner was woken by the sound of a wallet being knocked to the floor.

Clarke, 57, of Portland Street, Exeter, carried out two identical raids, one in Exton in March and another in Exeter in June.

At Exton, he hooked a handbag from a kitchen table and dragged it through the cat flap and also jemmied open a garage door. He was caught from DNA left on a scaffolding pole he had put through the cat flap.

During the Exeter raid, the householder crept downstairs and called the police from another room after seeing an intruder with a pole though the cat flap.

Officers arrived in time to find Clarke still prodding a washing line pole through the flap, while kneeling on a cushion he had stolen from a playhouse in the garden.

He told police he was desperate for money to pay his rent and blamed his return to crime on being left out of pocket through a zero-hours contract.

Former County Hall cleaner Clarke admitted two burglaries and was jailed for three years by Judge Erik Salomonsen at Exeter Crown Court.

The judge told Clarke: “These were two night-time burglaries of occupied homes. You returned to your old ways of trying to gain access through cat flaps to try to obtain valuables.

“Your justification was that you needed the money. You have 58 convictions, very many for dishonesty, and were convicted of domestic burglaries in 2000 and 2001, which make you liable for a mandatory sentence.”

Mr Tom Bradnock, prosecuting, said Clarke carried out two identical raids, one in Exton on March 1 and another in Exeter on June 21.

During the burglary at Roseland Avenue, in Exeter, the home owner was asleep upstairs when he was disturbed by noise from downstairs.

Mr Bradnock said: “He left his wife in bed and went downstairs, where he saw a torch being shone through his back door. He went to the living room and quietly called 999.

“He looked back into the kitchen and saw the metal pole from his washing line had been inserted through the cat flap and noticed his wife’s purse on the floor.

“The police arrived and an officer saw Clarke bending down with a pole in his hand. He told him not to move and he put his hands up. There was a cushion on the step. He said he was trying to get at a key inside.”

Clarke was found with a screwdriver, torch, gloves and a hooded top. He said he had carried out the burglary because he had no money for his rent.

Miss Heather Hope, defending, said Clarke had not succeeded in stealing anything from the house in Exton and had been caught red-handed during the second raid.

She said he had gone straight for seven years since being released from his last sentence, but had gone off the rails after losing his job at County Hall and taking a zero-hours contract as a stocktaker.

Miss Hope said there were delays in him accessing benefits when work dried up, which had left him with no money and worried about losing his £100 a week room in a rented house.

She said: “He should have pursued the legitimate option of seeking help but, instead, he went back to his old ways. He was very cooperative when he was caught red-handed.”

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