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Canterbury man living in the woods broke into Kings Market Store out of desperation

A young man living in the woods without a tent or sleeping bag committed the first crime of his life out of desperation, a court has heard.

Charlie Hughes had found himself sleeping rough and was struggling to access mental health support and accommodation when he broke into a shop in Canterbury.

Charlie Hughes, pictured outside court, was living in the woods at the time of the break-in
Charlie Hughes, pictured outside court, was living in the woods at the time of the break-in

A lawyer acting for the 20-year-old said he carried out the burglary during a “horrific few months” in his life.

Folkestone magistrates were told he had been sleeping rough over the festive season after a fall-out with his mother and had no luck securing shelter through homelessness organisations.

At about 2am on January 12, Hughes, who had never been in trouble with the law before, was seen in the city centre trying to break into the Kings Market Store in The Borough.

A witness living nearby heard him banging on the glass of the shop’s front door and started filming Hughes on their phone.

The onlooker said they then saw Hughes walk away, pause when someone walked by, and then come back and attempt to gain entry to the store again.

As the witness continued to film, Hughes took a hammer to the glass door panel and smashed it, allowing him to clamber inside.

He then started ransacking the shop and swiped cash from the till.

Charlie Hughes broke into the Kings Market Store in The Borough, Canterbury
Charlie Hughes broke into the Kings Market Store in The Borough, Canterbury

Prosecutor Victoria Aked said: “He then stole cigarettes and multiple bottles of alcohol and climbed back out through the broken door, but the witness had called the police.”

Officers arrived at the scene and gave chase as Hughes ran off, warning him he would be tasered if he continued to flee.

Hughes stopped and dropped what he had stolen, as well as the hammer.

It was established he had taken £96 cash from the till and almost £1,200 worth of cigarettes and alcohol.

During interview, Hughes told officers he had tried to stop himself from breaking into the store and had walked away several times before smashing his way into the shop.

Hughes admitted burglary, criminal damage and going equipped for theft when he appeared in the dock on February 1.

Miss Aked confirmed Hughes - who wore a snood and hat during the break-in - had no previous convictions.

Scott Neilson, defending, said his client had found himself in a desperate set of circumstances which led to him carrying out the burglary.

He added: “He was diagnosed with autism at school and he’s had no meds or assistance with that.

Charlie Hughes was sentenced at Folkestone Magistrates' Court
Charlie Hughes was sentenced at Folkestone Magistrates' Court

“He lost his job in a zoo last year and has been living in the woods. It’s been exceptionally challenging and he’s found it difficult to cope.

“He gets £276 a month on Universal Credit and can’t cope. His mental health has declined and he’s been using food banks, and decided to do [the burglary] as he walked past.

“He didn’t want to do it, but decided to do it and took the alcohol and cigarettes as he was so depressed and wanted to blank things out for a while.

“Even the police gave him food and got him to see the nurse to get help. He has a problematic relationship with his mum and has not seen her since Christmas.

“He’s had a horrific few months and would welcome assistance.

His ex-girlfriend’s dad has been trying to help and he could have a caravan he could stay in.

“He will engage with probation, he’s short of cash and homeless and is very sorry; he wanted to warm up, he had no sleeping bag or shelter and had phoned [shelters and such places] to seek help but got no support.”

Magistrates placed Hughes on a 12-month community order which will see him complete 30 rehabilitation sessions with probation to address his issues.

He was also ordered to pay £863.27 compensation to the shop’s owner Ahmad Qaderi to cover the cost of the damage caused to the door and a CCTV camera.

Mr Qaderi, who installed added security measures after the raid, said he had owned the store for 10 years and had never experienced such a break-in.

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