Florists guilty of cemetery thefts

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A FLORIST collapsed in court yesterday when he was found guilty of stealing flowers from a cemetery.

David Scott, 61, and his wife Mary, 45, of Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, were convicted of four charges of taking floral tributes from the garden of remembrance at Preston cemetery in North Shields between February and April this year.

Judge Denis Orde told them at Durham Crown Court: "You are a couple of grave robbers who committed a very shabby, heartless piece of stealing. Nobody with an ounce of decency would do what you did."

Judge Orde had to leave court for 10 minutes while Scott tried to compose himself for sentencing.

Scott shook as Judge Orde sentenced them both to a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. They were each ordered to pay pounds 500 in prosecution costs.

After the case Emma Dorn, 21, of North Shields, the granddaughter of Ethel Houston, whose floral tributes were stolen by the Scotts, said: "It was absolutely shocking when we found out. I think they're sick individuals."

The thefts first came to light on 6 April when the cemetery's caretaker, Miriam McCann, noticed a woman in the garden of remembrance. She approached and saw Mrs Scott carrying floral tributes out of the garden. She put them down before leaving. Mr Scott was seen to be "keeping watch", Brian Forster, for the prosecution, told the court.

Police later found laurel taken from a tree in the garden of remembrance and two memorial cards stolen from flowers, one in the back of the couple's car and the other at their home.

Mr Forster said: "At the time the defendants ran a florists shop. The flowers were being stolen to be used from the shop." He later put to the couple: "You were stealing that night and were caught red-handed." They both denied it.

Stephen Duffield, for the defence, said the couple were unlikely candidates to be caught stealing because at the time they ran a reputable business and had never been in trouble with the police before.

In mitigation he explained how the two were forced to move home because of the abuse they had received. They even had to move their daughter to a different school, he said.

"Their punishment has been very much greater than the loss of their good names," Mr Duffield said. "As soon as the allegations became public they were subjected to verbal abuse, threatening telephone calls, death threats and poison pen letters. Their van has even been petrol bombed and it's been necessary for them to move home to another area," Mr Duffield said.

The couple were forced to sell their business and now rely on invalidity benefit.

The judge said: "It was a crime of greed - there's no other way of describing it." He had said earlier that the crimes were of the same principle as "lifting the lid off a coffin".