David was an accomplished burglar before he was out of his teens - and some of his crimes he committed while on the run. He talks to Geoffrey Beattie about living dangerously
David has committed, by his own estimation, several hundred robberies. He has been in and out of prison, and spent several periods living on the run. "Money, clothes and having a good time has been my life," he says. "Burglary is the only real skill I've got."

His criminal career began when he was 15, as part of a gang which broke into a warehouse and stole pounds 100. "We blew the money in two days, on Indian meals, taxis and drinks. Then we went out again about three days later." Within six months, he had graduated to houses. "We'd usually get the bus up to this big estate. We'd go up in the afternoon and just pick a house that looked empty. My two mates would stay in the next street and I'd go up and knock on the door. If anyone answered, I'd say, 'Is Paul in, please?' They'd just say, 'Sorry, you must be at the wrong house.' If nobody answered, I'd go and get my mates and we'd go round the back and steam in."

But then one of his friends was arrested, and David found the police were after him. "I had to go on the run. I went on the train with my girlfriend to a little town in Wales that I'd been to as a kid for my holidays. She'd never been down there before. It was great - none of the jewellers or cigarette shops had alarms. They weren't used to crime. I was staying in a good hotel: it was out of season and pretty cheap. Nobody knew us down there, and we ended up doing some casual work in restaurants and cafes. We stayed for a few months, and then I started coming back home to sell some of the gear that I was getting down there.

"I'd arranged to meet this fence in a pub. He wasn't someone I'd ever done business with before - he was a friend of my dad's. So I sat there waiting, but he didn't show. The next minute, the place was full of coppers - but they ran straight past me. I had a good tan from a sunbed, you see, and I'd changed the style of my hair. The coppers didn't let anybody out of the pub, and the landlord identified me. He said he didn't know I was on the run. The fence must have grassed on me, to do himself a favour with the coppers. At the Crown Court, the judge said I was a professional burglar and, if I'd been older, I would have got five years As it was, I was sent to Borstal."

David served 13 months, then went back to burglary within a week of his release - he stole several gold chains worth pounds 7,600 from a jeweller, and sold them to a fence in Birmingham for pounds 2,800. It was a smash-and-grab, and he was chased by three passers-by: "The really funny thing was that they had all these eyewitnesses giving different descriptions. I had a really good suntan at the time, and one customer swore I must have been a Paki. But the shop assistant gave them a good description, and I was eventually spotted in a hairdresser's. They pulled the hairdresser in as well because I'd been talking to her and she had a big gold chain on."

He was soon back in prison, where he met an old lag with some useful advice. "He told me to tell the coppers that I'd take them to the stuff [the gold chains], but do a runner instead. He said that, if a fit young lad like me couldn't get away from two fat CID men, who could? So I told the coppers I'd do it, but I didn't want ten big CID blokes tramping up to my mate's house with me. So they said, 'That's OK, there'll only be two'.

"They picked me up at about nine o'clock and handcuffed me. I told them that I wanted to ring my friend from the telephone box on the corner of his street to make sure that he was in. So they undid one of my handcuffs. I went along and pretended to make the call. They let me walk to the house with one of them, a sergeant, holding the end of the cuffs. He said to me, 'You're not going to try and do a runner or owt like that, are you?' I said, 'Of course, not'. I told them the stuff was in the bin in the back garden. I knew that part of the city really well, and, as soon as I got to the back garden, I sprinted off across this wasteland. The sergeant was just standing there, shouting, 'Come back, you little bastard!' I ran straight to one of my friend's houses and he sawed the cuffs off. They sealed the whole area off and got dogs, Land Rovers, the lot. As my mum said, 'It wasn't bloody fair - all this for one kid'. I sat up all night watching them search this wasteland from my friend's bedroom.

"In the morning, the coppers called at my friend's at about eight o'clock. I was still in bed, and his mum had to wake me up. I climbed out of the bedroom window with no shoes or socks on. It was December and it was bloody freezing. I was going to nip back in when they'd gone, but some cleaners from a pub spotted me so I had to leg it. I saw this woman in her garden and told her my dog had run off and I was chasing after it, so she loaned me some socks."

David then hid with a cousin for a few days, but the police went round all his friends and relations, and he was eventually found hiding in her cubby-hole. "This time on the run was bloody miserable. I never left the house. The police told me I'd really done it this time, it was a really serious offence. I was also charged with escaping from police custody and theft of handcuffs. Could you believe it? I was really crapping myself. Anyway, the case came to court, and all I got was a 'recall' to Borstal - 16 weeks. I'd been on remand for 13 weeks so I only had three to do. My relatives in the public gallery all started clapping, but the police weren't too happy about the sentence, and the two CID men who I'd escaped from got demoted to the shoplifting squad. I saw them last week - they gave me a real evil look."

David was out of Borstal for only a few weeks when he started stealing Capo di Monte porcelain figures: "Some people do collect them, you know." Within two months, he was back on remand. "This time I got a really bad judge - I got 15 months, and spent the last eight in Armley prison in Leeds."