'Prolific' teenage burglar jailed

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A prolific teenage burglar who was given a chance to turn his back on a life of crime was jailed for five years today.

Bradley Wernham, 19, was spared a prison sentence last October when he appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court to admit 17 counts of theft and burglary and asked for another 645 to be taken into account.

He was given a three-year community order with stringent conditions, but today was back before Judge Christopher Ball QC, who originally sentenced him, after admitting attempting to burgle a house in January this year.

Judge Ball today sentenced him to four and a half years for the original offences and six months for the new crime.

Wernham avoided jail last year because of a new scheme Essex Police were trialling, which the judge described today as "innovative".

It meant that, instead of prison, the force recommended Wernham was given education, training and close supervision by the Probation Service in a bid to stop his offending.

The judge praised the scheme as he passed sentence, saying Wernham's immaturity was to blame for its failure.

He told the teenager, of Chelmsford, Essex: "You cast yourself as a victim and you're not. The public are the victims of your offending and you are responsible for it - no-one else.

"Until you are a man, or man enough to appreciate that fact, there will be little hope in you changing your conduct."

Wernham smiled as he was led away to begin the sentence.

The judge admitted he took a risk in exposing himself and the police to "adverse criticism" when he followed the advice of the force and gave the community order in October.

But he said: "There is real scope for these aspects of rehabilitation to take place in the community and occasionally, in cases such as this, the risk is justified. It was a unique case.

"The fact that it has not been successful in the sense that Mr Wernham has chosen to reoffend must not discourage the police from continuing to employ the scheme and this approach to selected offenders."

Judge Ball admitted he had taken a "gamble" in the sentencing in October, but said of the pilot scheme: "There was one objective and one objective only as far as the police, and indeed it turned out the court, was concerned, and that is to find a route, a device, by which the public were better protected by a prolific offender no longer offending."

He told Wernham he was let down by his immaturity and "inability to pursue unwaveringly a single and determined course of action".

The court heard that Wernham was caught in January after a neighbour alerted police when he saw the teenager smash a pane of glass at a house in Avenue Road, Witham.

Officers were nearby as they had Wernham under surveillance, having noticed a sharp rise in the number of burglaries since he had moved to Chelmsford following the sentencing in October.

The judge told Wernham today: "As explained to probation, committing offences gives you a buzz, gives you an adrenalin rush, and you were pitting your wits against the police.

"It was thanks to the vigilance of the next-door neighbour that you were thwarted."