Scottish wild man sought

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A POLICE manhunt was launched yesterday for an elusive backwoodsman who has spent the past 20 years living a solitary existence in the wild, avoiding all human contact except to raid homes for food and clothing.

Robert Sinclair, who failed to appear in court yesterday for a string of petty thefts around Scotland, has earned a reputation as a modern- day Davy Crockett. The 51-year-old had been due to appear at Stirling Sheriff Court for sentencing for 14 offences he admitted in October 1998, when he was remanded in custody. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

At his last appearance, three weeks ago, Sinclair was ordered to live with a friend in Falkirk. Without a fixed address, the court would have had no alternative but to send him back to jail. But after a brief conversation with the friend, Freda Angus, he declared: "That's me away then," and disappeared.

John McInnes, for the defence, said Sinclair had not been in touch. "I had expected him to be dressed all in furs and to have come crashing through the court window on a rope to surprise us. Unfortunately, he didn't," he said.

Sinclair was well knownthroughout central Scotland for building small, temporary homes in woods. He shunned company and drew no state benefits. Instead, as he admitted, he stole food, including salmon, fruit and potatoes; cushions, sleeping bags and even a radio to furnish his shelters; plus razors and a mirror.

Police were baffled initially by the thefts from remote houses, unoccupied caravans and farm buildings spread across a wide area. Even when officers worked out who the sneak thief was, Sinclair used his outdoor survival skills to evade capture. Mounted police from Strathclyde staged patrols and even a helicopter was called in for the hunt. Sinclair was caught only after a keen-eyed farmer in Balfron, west Stirlingshire, noticed footprints from training shoes in the mud. He knew all the farm workers wore boots and later found the man's den in nearby woods.

Now the search for Sinclair has begun all over again, with Central Police under added pressure because of media interest the affair has generated - a likely factor in the shy man's non-appearance, according to Mr McInnes.

A force spokeswoman refused to say how many officers were in pursuit. This time, at least, the officers know who they are looking for.