Soldier's career in ruins over riots

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The Independent Online

The Army career of a serving soldier is in ruins after he was locked up for eight months today for buying a stolen guitar during the August disturbances and then trying to sell it on.

Liam Bretherton, 20, was in Manchester city centre at the height of the widespread civil disorder when he paid £20 to a unknown man in the street for the instrument, which had just been looted from a nearby music store.

Two days later Bretherton, a member of the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, went into a music shop in his home town of Leigh, Greater Manchester, and offered them the rare left-handed Les Gibson guitar, valued at nearly £2,000.

The shop owner became suspicious, locked the doors and called the police when he confirmed with the other store that it had been taken during a large-scale raid on its premises on August 9.

Manchester Crown Court heard Bretherton then appeared "agitated" and "the colour drained from his face" as he said: "I'm in the Army."

He was arrested and went on to plead guilty to handling stolen goods.

His counsel pleaded for a suspended sentence today as any jail term would lead to him being kicked out of the Army, but Judge Anthony Gee QC said he would be "failing in my duty" to impose anything but immediate custody.

The judge said: "You have to face the consequences of what you did and what you did amounts to a very serious offence

"I regard yours as an extremely sad case. It is sad because you are a young man who all that know you have spoken highly of, but you well know that courts dealing with cases like this have a duty and obligation to punish those involved and deter others who may be minded to act like you did in the future."

Bretherton, of Larch Road, was told he would serve half his sentence in a young offenders institution before being released.

Gavin Howie, prosecuting, said Bretherton told police he played no part in the looting of Dawsons Music in Portland Street.

He had been out celebrating his 20th birthday with friends but came into the city centre after he admitted he was "nosey" about the events unfolding.

"He said a man approached him in the street and offered to sell the guitar to him for £20," Mr Howie said. "He thought 'why not' and took it back to his car."

The guitar was of no practical use to him because it was left-handed, but he later learned through internet searches that it was valued at far more than the buying price and a huge profit was possible.

He shared the news with friends online and one friend replied: "Oh my God. You lucky boy", said the prosecutor.

The bid to sell on the guitar to Heybrook Music in Leigh then followed.

David Temkin, defending, said Bretherton was not involved in the violence or the burglary but he could not ignore the fact he had gone voluntarily to the city centre out of curiosity.

He was near to the offending and provided an "immediate market" for the stolen goods, he said.

But Mr Temkin urged the judge to consider a suspended sentence because of his early guilty plea, his sense of shame that he had brought upon himself and his family, his previous impeccable character and an "exemplary record" in the Forces.

A captain of the regiment, who sat in the public gallery with the defendant's parents, reported that Bretherton was among the top 15% of performers in physical terms in the British Army, added Mr Temkin.

Having been with the regiment for three years, he had served two months in Afghanistan and was on 48-hour notice to go anywhere in the world.

"This dreadful blip in his life does nothing to suggest the responsibility and sense of morality he otherwise displays," he said.

Judge Gee said Bretherton had advantages in life that perhaps others who came before the courts in similar circumstances did not.

He went on: "I accept you were not part of the attack on the store, neither did you enter the store.

"But the fact you were present in the city centre at the time was an extremely foolish thing for you to do and also may be viewed as lending support to what was going on.

"You came into possession of that expensive guitar that you knew must have come from the looted store and two days later you tried to profit from it by selling it."

He concluded immediate custody only could be justified but said: "I will keep it as short as I can, knowing you will suffer the consequences of losing your career in the Army but in my judgment I will be failing in my duty were I to follow the course suggested by Mr Temkin."