A MAN caught red-handed burgling a landmark Bradford mill has been spared immediate imprisonment because he has turned over a new leaf to become a tree surgeon.

Peter Harland was a desperate drug addict when he was arrested in the basement of historic Barkerend Mills as one of a three-man gang stealing copper cable, Bradford Crown Court heard.

He and an accomplice were nabbed by the police while another of the burglars managed to escape, prosecutor Paul Nicholson said.

Harland, 51, of Fencote Crescent, Fagley, Bradford, was just four months into a suspended sentence for house burglary when he was apprehended in the mill on August 5 last year.

Mr Nicholson said that the owner of the six storey building, Peter Hemingway, was carrying out a security check while the building was in the process of being cleared for redevelopment.

He heard a noise from the basement and called the police before going to investigate.

Mr Hemingway saw three men cutting through industrial copper cable, having done £2,000 worth of damage.

Harland, who protested: ‘It wasn’t burglary, it was theft,’ said he went into the building to take drugs and did not intend to steal.

The police seized torches, gloves, an angle grinder, bolt cutters and a hacksaw, the court was told.

The other man arrested at the scene was jailed for three months at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates Court.

Harland had 26 previous convictions for 38 offences, including burglary, theft, drugs matters and battery.

The suspended sentence order was made at Bradford Crown Court on April 13 for a house burglary. The female occupant caught Harland in her home, and he knocked her down as he ran past with two bags of stolen property, dropping them as he fled.

Harland’s solicitor advocate, John Bottomley, flagged up the 15 month delay between his client’s arrest and the sentencing hearing.

Harland had pleaded guilty to burgling the mill at the first opportunity.

He was living in a hostel opposite the mill at the time and the building was used by some of the occupants as “a watering hole” for drug taking.

Since then, Harland had turned his life around. He was off drugs and training as a drugs counsellor. He was working part-time as a tree surgeon and he had not reoffended.

“He is now making a positive contribution to society and sending him to prison would undo all the good work,” Mr Bottomley said.

Judge Jonathan Rose agreed, sentencing Harland to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years, with 200 hours of unpaid work. He must pay Mr Hemingway £500 compensation.