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Serial burglar arrested near church

01 March 2013

POLICE PHOTO

A SERIAL burglar, who had already targeted more than 500 churches, has been caught after he raided three dozen more while on the run from prison.

On Monday, Christopher John Coulthard, aged 50 and originally from Bedworth, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, admitted four specimen counts of burglary and one of theft, and asked for a further 31 offences to be taken into account.

A nationwide search was launched for him last week, after he failed to keep to the conditions of a release-licence granted in November, two years into a prison sentence imposed in 2010 for burglaries in the Midlands. He had originally been jailed for ten years, but, in 2011, it was reduced on appeal to a six-year term.

Police in six counties - Cumbria, Humberside, Lancashire, North Yorkshire, Oxfordshire, and Warwickshire - linked him to a string of break-ins at churches, all committed after his release. In one week alone, 15 churches in North Yorkshire were raided.

He was finally caught on Sunday morning, after a worshipper at St Andrew's, Ulrome, near Bridlington, in East Yorkshire, noticed a man acting suspiciously inside the church. Humberside Police were alerted, and officers were dispatched to check other churches in the area. As a patrol-car drew up outside All Saints', Skipsea, a mile away, the officers saw Mr Coulthard, and arrested him.

On Monday, he pleaded guilty at Beverley Magistrates' Court to burglary at St Hilda's, Ampleforth, and St John the Baptist, Cayton, both in North Yorkshire; at the Salvation Army Citadel in Bridlington; and St John's, Harpham, near Driffield, East Yorkshire; he also admitted theft by walk-in at St Peter and St Paul's, Pickering, in North Yorkshire - all offences committed between 17 and 23 February.

Mr Coulthard used a bicycle to travel between his targets, and often stayed in an area in pubs or B&Bs, using an alias. His pickings were rarely large: he took cash from collection boxes or petty-cash tins, but often left empty-handed.

He was remanded in custody, and will appear at Hull Crown Court for sentencing on 25 March.

At the Court of Appeal hearing in 2011, a judge said that Mr Coulthard had a "spectacular" record for crime, and had spent about 30 of his then 49 years in prison. In 2003, in court in Swansea, Mr Coulthard had asked for 502 crimes at churches and chapels to be taken into consideration.

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