A burglar who rifled through bedside drawers just inches from his sleeping victim went on to steal the man’s £13,000 Audi before setting it alight.
The car was found in Blackberry Lane, near Greater Leys, some two days after the break-in at the victim’s home in Ewelme on July 12, 2020.
By the time the smouldering hatchback was discovered, Toby Hooper had already been linked to the burglary and the theft of the vehicle.
But a fingerprint left in the Audi definitively connected the 35-year-old thief with the stolen car, Oxford Crown Court heard.
It was a week before Hooper could be tracked down. Even then, he was only arrested after a 20 minute police chase through Oxfordshire, with the burglar behind the wheel of a Astra van and driving in what the judge called an ‘alarming manner’.
Despite having almost 40 offences to his name, Hooper was spared an immediate prison sentence.
Imposing 22 months’ imprisonment suspended for a year and a half, Recorder John Bate-Williams noted that he had already done six months in prison on remand awaiting his trial, had been on a curfew in the nine months since then, and was working with Turning Point and Narcotics Anonymous to rid himself of the drug addiction that had dogged his adulthood.
He said that an immediate prison sentence would be ‘entirely justified’ but ran the risk of sending Hooper back to drug use.
Adding 150 hours of unpaid work, a six month drug rehabilitation requirement and the probation service’s thinking skills programme as conditions of the suspended sentence, the judge said: “This is not a straightforward or easy order.
“From your perspective it would probably have been easier to serve a further custodial sentence. But you have seized the opportunity to change the path of your life.”
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The court was told the victim was asleep at home in Parsons Lane, Ewelme, when Hooper broke in through a kitchen window before scouring the property.
He stole a wallet, cash, a knife, jewellery and the keys to the slumbering homeowner’s 2015-plate Audi A6.
When the householder awoke the next morning it was to discover that his vehicle was gone.
The car activated numberplate cameras on the night of the theft, but it was not until July 14, 2020, that the vehicle was recovered near Oxford. It had been set alight and left to burn.
Hooper was arrested on July 19, having made off from police officers as he drove a Vauxhall van. Although he had not been charged over the chase, the court heard he had previous convictions for disqualified driving.
Hooper, of Croft Road, Oxford, was originally due to stand trial but pleaded guilty before a jury could be sworn to residential burglary, arson and theft of a motor vehicle.
He had 15 previous convictions for 38 offences.
In mitigation, the court heard about Hooper’s efforts to tackle long-standing substance addictions. He came to court armed with references from support workers, including at Narcotics Anonymous, who had been helping him since his release from prison on bail last year.