An Eastbourne trio carried out ‘despicable, mean and sly’ burglaries that left victims living in fear in their own homes.
One of the people who was targeted said the break in had left an ‘aching hole’ in her life, a court heard today.
Vernon Baker, Carl Howard and Abbe Cullen hung their heads in shame today at Lewes Crown Court as they were sentenced for the thefts, which took place in the village of Chalvington and in Polegate. All claimed not to have entered the homes themselves, but admitted playing a part in the burglaries nonetheless.
Baker, 41, of Appledore Close, pleaded guilty to three charges of burglary – all in Chalvington. Howard, 34, of Timberley Road, admitted one charge of burglary – committed alongside Baker at one of the Chalvington homes. Cullen, 36, of Snowdon Close, pleaded guilty to a single count of burglary, which took place in Polegate in May.
Baker has worked as a steward at Brighton and Hove Albion’s Amex stadium with Howard. They appeared with Cullen for sentencing at Lewes Crown Court today.
Prosecutor Jordan Franks told the court how the victims were not present during any of the burglaries, in which cash and jewellery were taken.
Describing the first offence, committed by Baker, he said: “The victim received a call from a neighbour telling them that their burglar alarm had gone off.
“They returned to find the house had been broken into.
“A safe had been recovered and was found in woodland.
“Some blood found on the dial matched with Mr Baker.”
The third burglary, also in Chalvington, involved both Baker and Howard, who claimed he acted only as a driver and did not enter the property.
Jewellery was taken from the home. In the other two burglaries jewellery was also taken, the prosecution said.
In an emotional statement, one of the victims said: “Since the incident I have felt scared in my home.
"We have lived in the address for over 24 years.
“I am apprehensive when at home alone. I never thought I would feel like this in a place I should feel safe.”
Another said: “To the perpetrators of the crime, why do you feel entitled to steel from others?
“You have taken cash for which I work long, hard hours.
“You have left an aching hole in my life.”
Sophie Evans, representing Baker, said: “It does mean a lot to him to see the effects of his crimes.
“It has obviously hurt the people and he has shown remorse.”
She told the judge that Baker had come out of prison after serving nine years for aggravated burglary with a wish to support his family and earn an income.
“He was working as a steward at [Brighton and Hove Albion’s] football ground. He really is making steps to try and improve his life.”
However she said he nonetheless turned back to burglary.
“He maintains that he knew of the burglaries [but] he did not physically enter the houses.”
Christos Christou, defending Howard, said: “He first came into contact with Mr Baker while stewarding.
“They did some stewarding at the Brighton football stadium together.”
He said Howard was ‘slightly naïve and perhaps easily manipulated’ and asked for full credit for his guilty plea.
He added that Howard only signed on as a driver and did not enter the house that was burgled.
Matthew Withers, defending Cullen, said his client too was only a driver and did not enter the house.
“She was driving a vehicle and on a joint enterprise basis she accepts she is responsible for the burglary.”
Sentencing the three individuals, Judge Janet Waddicor said: “All three of you appear before the court in respect of burglary matters.
“The offences are despicable, mean and sly. All caused enormous upset.”
Turning to Baker she described his previous conviction for aggravated burglary - for which he was only released from jail in 2017 - as ‘chilling’.
Judge Waddicor continued: “Within seven months there you are again committing three burglaries of people’s homes in a small village.”
She jailed him for six years and four months.
Sentencing Carl Howard, she said: “Your role was you couldn't resist temptation to earn some easy money so you drove the car.
“You too have expressed remorse.”
Howard was given a nine-month jail sentence, suspended for two years. He must complete 100 hours of unpaid work, complete rehabilitation days and pay costs.
Turning finally to Cullen, Judge Waddicor also gave her a nine-month jail term, suspended for two years. She must complete rehabilitation days and also enrol on a drug rehabilitation scheme.