Prolific church burglar is snared by police text messaging

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The Independent Online

The police's latest weapon in the fight against crime - the humble text message - was being applauded after it was used to track down Britain's most prolific church burglar.

Christopher Coulthard, who has made a 30-year career out of stealing from church collection boxes around the country, was jailed for five years yesterday after admitting burglary. He was arrested after being recognised by a man who was among 6,000 people who had signed up to receive mass text alerts from Suffolk Police.

The success of the scheme, Police Direct, which was launched last year and is the first of its kind in the country, has now prompted other police forces to consider following suit.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that a builder repairing the boundary wall at a 12th-century church, St Mary the Virgin in Santon Downham, received the text message on 14 February, while eating his lunchtime sandwiches. The message warned him to be on the lookout for a blue Rover car and gave the registration number.

Ten minutes later, the builder, who asked not be named, saw the car pull up outside the church and Coulthard go inside. The man called police and Coulthard was arrested later outside another church in a neighbouring village. The builder said: "I heard a car pull up and poked my head out of my hut to see who it was. I became suspicious when I saw it was a blue car and realised it matched the text. If it had not been for the text message, I am sure he would still be at large now."

Coulthard, 43, unemployed, from Warwickshire, admitted stealing £5 from All Saint's church and burglary at three other churches in Nottinghamshire, Norfolk and Shropshire. He asked for 76 other thefts and burglaries of churches and chapels to be taken into consideration. No total figure for the thefts was given, since in most cases the amount in the collection boxes was not known.