Man jailed for stealing from retired priest - Luton

14/09/2015

A man, who tricked his way into the home of a retired priest, stole a cherished communion bowl that was a keepsake from a visit to England by the Pope.

James Keenan, aged 55, turned up at the Luton home of former clergyman, Bernard Hughes in March of this year.

Today, Monday, 14 September 2015, Luton Crown Court heard that elderly Mr Hughes, who was a priest for 51 years, suffers from Parkinson's Disease and has carers come into his home in Leagrave to look after him.

Kevin West, prosecuting, said when Keenan arrived and said he had come to do the garden, Mr Hughes assumed he had been sent from the carers agency. In fact Keenan was unemployed and looking for any way he could to make some money. As a result, after just 10 minutes work weeding in the front garden, he went back into the house and presented Mr Hughes with a bill for £30. When the ex-clergyman challenged it, Keenan immediately dropped his price to £15 and it was then that he was asked to leave the house.

The prosecutor said it was later that Mr Hughes realised the communion bowl, which had £20 pounds in and a gold ring, was missing. Mr West said the communion bowl had a special meaning for Mr Hughes because it had been used during a service led by Pope John Paul at Wembley Stadium during his visit to England in the 1980s. The ring, too, was of sentimental value because it had belonged to one of the clergyman's parishioners who had since died.

In a victim impact statement made to police, Mr Hughes said: "He made out he had been sent to help, but he took advantage of me."

Keenan, of Third Avenue, Luton, pleaded guilty to burglary.

Miss Flavia Kenyon, defending, said Keenan wanted to apologise to Mr Hughes for what he'd done that day. She said it had not been pre-planned, but was opportunistic. "He goes around and does occasional work for pocket money," she said. Miss Kenyon said her client had "mental health issues" of his own and a psychiatric nurse regularly attended his home. She said that, in coping with his problems, Keenan had started taking crack cocaine. The court was told that because of Keenan's problems and vulnerability, he will find it difficult to cope with any prison sentence.

Judge Richard Foster jailed him for 15 months and ordered that he be placed on supervision for a year following his eventual release from prison.

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