‘A one man crimewave’ who has made Peterborough residents’ lives a misery for more than two decades is facing another stretch behind bars after it was revealed he is expected to admit 200 new offences ‘to save tax payers money.’
Career crook Paul Priestley has spent much of the last 20 years in and out of jail - and he appeared at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court again on Friday charged with a series of thefts from cars.
Cambridgeshire police had made Priestley one of their most wanted men this winter following a string of offences in the Ortons and Hamptons areas of the city.
In January, the Peterborough Telegraph joined police patrols which started at midnight and lasted several hours which were carried out by officers in an attempt to keep vehicles safe - and to bring Priestley to justice.
Priestley - who has been described as a ‘one man crime wave’ in court in the past - managed to evade capture for several weeks, but following a public appeal he was captured.
The court heard from prosecutor Bob Rowlingson that an officer he had spoken to “expects somewhere in the region of 200 offences” to be taken into consideration (TICs) when the next court hearing takes place on February 23.
Priestley (39) of Bringhurst, Orton Goldhay, also pleaded guilty on Friday (February 9) to an attempted theft from a motor vehicle, vehicle interference, failing to comply with the requirements of a post-custodial sentence and the breach of a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO).
Priestley told Peterborough Magistrates’ Court on Friday that if he did not cooperate with the police it was “just going to cost the taxpayers money” by delaying the process.
Now North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara has called for a lengthy sentence to be imposed.
He said: “Ending up in prison for this individual is nothing more than an occupational hazard.
“That attitude needs to change - there needs to be a sufficiently long sentence both to provide peace of mind for local residents, and also to ensure that the sentence serves as a real deterrent.
“Unless that happens, he will soon be laughing out of jail and causing misery to the public.
“Getting a proper job has to be a better way to live life rather than engaging in this sort of constant petty theft and breaking into cars.”
Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya said the causes of his offending needed to be tackled. She said: “Our present justice system is more like a sledgehammer than a scalpel: cases like this make it clear that there are gaps in the system. It’s clear that prison, even fines, have no effect on Priestley’s behaviour: there are plenty of criminals whose biographies are similar.
“We need to ensure that the system has an overhaul to ensure that the public are protected and criminals - where possible - are rehabilitated.
“This will not happen if we focus only on the behaviour and not the factors which drive it. Furthermore, it’s not going to be possible to develop new approaches so long as we’re cutting funds for law enforcement.”
Nine years ago Priestley - then aged 30 - was given a ‘last chance’ to sort his life out after admitting carrying out 70 vehicle break-ins in just four months. He had already been committing crimes for 14 years, when caught again.
Priestley was already under the police’s Priority Prolific Offenders (PPO) unit, aimed at tackling the consistent crooks in the city.
Officers took the unprecedented step of asking for the 30-year-old amphetamine addict to be kept out of prison so he could be monitored in the community.
Yet, less than six months later Priestley was back in the dock after breaking into three cars when he got drunk celebrating his birthday.
And Priestley’s offending has barely stopped in the intervening years.
In March last year he was back in court, with Giles Beaumont, prosecuting, telling magistrates Priestley’s criminal record was now 21 pages long - with a vast majority of those pages made up of theft offences.
The court was told Priestley was living on the streets to survive, and had suffered from drug problems for many years.
On that occasion he admitted two thefts from cars - with another 10 taken into consideration.
Magistrate Paul Waterfield jailed him for 16 weeks, and ordered him to pay compensation to two of his victims.
But Priestley said: “I’ll be on the streets. How am I meant to pay it?.”
Mr Waterfield said Priestley would have to return to court to arrange for payment to be made. Mr Priestley said: “I’ll be homeless. I’ll be back here in six months. What am I meant to do?” Mr Waterfield replied: “You need to do something to break the chain.”
True to his word, just four months later Priestley was back in court admitted breaking into a car at the Brotherhood Retail Park - and asked for 12 other offences to be taken into consideration.
He was jailed for 12 weeks and made the subject of a criminal behaviour order for two years. The order bans him from touching or entering any unattended vehicle without the permission of the owner - and he can be sent back to prison for breaching it.
‘I don’t think it was a mistake’
In March 2009, DI Neil Sloan wrote a report to the courts suggesting the public could be better protected if Priestley was allowed to manage his addiction in the community. He said the defendant would be closely supervised by the police’s Priority Prolific Offenders Unit while being helped by drug rehabilitation agencies in the city.
Judge Patrick Moloney QC said the representations had convinced him to spare Priestley immediate jail. “It appeared to me prior to reading the papers that the only way to protect the public was to get your client off the streets,” he told Priestley’s barrister.
“I was thinking in terms of a prison sentence of two years minimum. But you have put forward unusually forceful mitigation and, in particular, I’m struck by DI Sloan’s willingness to underwrite the possibility that it might be appropriate to give your client one last chance.”
In August the same year Priestley was back in court - but DI Sloan said he had ‘no regrets.’
He said: “I don’t think it was a mistake to do what we did. A lot of police resources and effort went into managing him and for a long period our work was very successful. Unfortunately, that one slip-up when he fell off the wagon has brought that to a stop and that’s going to be a fatal blow for him. We took innovative action to try to stop his offending, but the ball was always going to be in his court.”
He was given a suspended prison sentence - but less than a year later he was back in court and jailed for 62 weeks - for theft - his 60th conviction for the offence - although he had admitted more than 100 others to be taken into consideration in his 15 year criminal career at that point.
Judge Neil McKittrick, sentencing, said at the time: “It would be ludicrous, when I am charged with protecting the public in this city, to let you loose.”