Woman who bit columnist during break-in goes free

A habitual burglar who broke into the home of the novelist Will Self and assaulted his wife, Deborah Orr, a columnist for The Independent, walked free from court yesterday.

Tania Chaves had been warned that she faced jail for the burglary, but Judge Peter Grobel sentenced her instead to a 12-month drug treatment programme. He said her crimes were closely related to her heroin addiction and treatment would be more likely to stop her re-offending than a prison sentence.

Chaves, 29, had denied breaking in to the couple's home in Stockwell, south London, last December, saying she was trying to get their attention after finding their four-year-old son outside.

However, she was convicted after Inner London Crown Court heard Ms Orr describe how she was told by her son that a strange woman was upstairs in the house. Ms Orr grabbed Chaves as she came down the stairs but was bitten five times on her hand as they struggled.

Mr Self heard his wife's screams and rushed down to see the two women grappling by the front gate. Helped by a passer-by, he managed to restrain Chaves while Ms Orr called the police.

Chaves, who had not taken anything in the raid, was taken to Kennington Police Station. She later claimed she was attacked by Mr Self, Ms Orr, and the passer-by.

The court was told Chaves had 14 previous burglary convictions since 1998, including several counts of impersonating cleaners to get into wealthy householders.

Sentencing her yesterday, Judge Grobel said: "If I send you back to prison now it is likely after your release you will again burgle." He also commended Ms Orr's bravery, saying: "When she chased Chaves from the home and caught the fleeing hooded figure, she had every reason to think she was dealing with a male burglar."

Ms Orr, whose hand is still scarred, said after the sentencing that it would have been better for Chaves to get treatment while she was being held on remand.

She called for a new system where an independent person could advise drug addicts caught red-handed to plead guilty in return for treatment, saving the innocent parties from the trauma of a trial.