A PAIR of prolific criminals who stole a safe containing thousands of pounds from Winchester Cathedral have been sentenced.

John Gillingham and David Rolfe had been drinking when they entered the cathedral on August 9 to avoid the rain.

They were said to be “acting suspiciously” by a member of staff who reported them to verger Tom Jenkinson when she left for the day.

After the employee left, CCTV showed Gillingham and Rolfe searching behind the entrance desk before taking a safe – using a wheeled chair to make off with it. The safe contained £2,500 and a Motorola mobile phone.

The CCTV was shown to PCSO Parker who recognised the pair. Gillingham, 36, was arrested later that day at his home in Hyde Gate, Hyde, and was found with £585 in a plastic bag in his sock.

Rolfe, 40, also of Hyde Gate, was arrested three days later after he evaded police by escaping out a window.

They both pleaded guilty to burglary.

At Winchester Crown Court on Friday the judge, Mr Recorder R Weekes, said this was an “opportunistic crime”.

In mitigation for Rolfe, his representative said that he has “an unenviable record”, adding: “

It has been difficult over the years for this defendant to find any footing to try and recover from the need to use drugs and alcohol.”

She added: “It is certainly an incident that was committed whilst in the premises and on impulse and when they had been drinking.”

Rolfe has 39 convictions for 87 offences, 64 of them for theft matters, while Gillingham has 33 convictions for 61 offences.

In mitigation for Gillingham, Ann-Marie Talbot, said: “Mr Gillingham is in a very similar cycle or spiral to addiction.”

She added: “Mr Gillingham has said to me that he now accepts that this was a complete error of judgement, and he regrets his actions that day.”

The judge jailed Rolfe for 15 weeks due to his record but said he had served 25 days on a qualifying curfew.

Gillingham was given a 13-week sentence suspended for one year, but he must complete five rehabilitation days.

His drug rehabilitation requirement was extended by six months and had an existing community order extended to last 18 months.

A cathedral spokesperson said: "Whilst this unpleasant incident adversely impacted the cathedral in terms of security, the safety and wellbeing of all the cathedral team, staff and volunteers, is of the utmost importance.

"If any one of the team is put in a potentially dangerous situation, or are made to feel threatened or uncomfortable, they are advised to contact or locate another member of staff to minimise any risk to themselves."

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