In the Media

Burglars to be given tougher sentences in hotspot city

PUBLISHED June 9, 2012

In a ground-breaking initiative by police and the judiciary, anyone who targets homes in Leeds is likely to be sentenced to longer behind bars than anywhere else in the country.

From now on, officers will submit statements to courts when residential properties are burgled in the Yorkshire city so this can be taken into account as an "aggravating factor" by sentencing judges.

It is hoped the tougher jail terms under the "Leeds uplift" will act as a deterrent to other criminals who led it to have one of the highest burglary rates in the country in recent years.

In 2010-11 the city suffered 8,869 residential break-ins, the third highest rate in England and Wales, and more than 1,600 people were arrested for burglary offences in a year. However a police and council taskforce has cut crime since then.

Experts believe that criminals are drawn to the large number of student houses in the city - which are often poorly secured but full of the latest computers and music equipment - while upmarket homes are often close to deprived areas.

The news initiative followed a meeting between West Yorkshire police officers and the city's most senior judge, the Recorder of Leeds, Judge Peter Collier QC.

Chief Supt Paul Money, in charge of tackling burglary, said: "The context behind the meeting was that Leeds was performing unfavourably compared to other areas.

"Lots of work had been going on to improve partnerships with agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service, probation and youth offending service.

"The last untapped partner we need to work with was the judiciary. Judge Collier was very receptive to the burglary problem and agreed to consider looking beyond the regular sentencing guidelines."

Under Sentencing Council guidelines for burglary published in January, judges can take into account the impact of an offence on a particular community.

Prosecutors and police can suggest that "established evidence of community impact" is an aggravating factor, in that burglary is a significant problem in the area. Other factors that would lead to a tougher sentence include the offence taking place at night or when a child is at home, or if the victim was vulnerable.

The statutory maximum sentence for a domestic burglary is 14 years' imprisonment but the vast majority of cases attract sentences of less than six years.

The maximum is reserved for exceptional cases and so burglaries that took place in Leeds would not lead to a criminal being jailed for 15 years or longer.

A Whitehall source said: "What has been agreed is that police will provide a community impact statement for each burglary that occurs in Leeds because it's a particular hotspot.

"The sentencing judge will consider that as one factor with the sentencing guidelines."

Last month the Magistrates' Association said information from new online police maps - about the types and numbers of offences committed in individual streets- should be used to give tougher sentences to criminals who are blighting neighbourhoods.

A report said the crime maps could be used by the prosecution "to draw the attention of a sentencing bench to the offence pattern in a specific location", such as revellers who go to town centres just to get drunk.