Judges have been told to take the emotional impact of burglaries more seriously by handing out longer sentences, under proposed new official guidelines.
The sentencing council has issued a new three-tier scale of “harm” with the longest sentences of up to five years in jail reserved for burglaries which have “much greater emotional impact on the victim than would normally be expected”.
This would also include the “substantial degree of loss” of items of personal value, as well as their monetary or commercial value.
Judges should consider the longest sentences for any burglary where the victim was at home, where the offender used violence or threats against a householder, or where the criminal soiled property or caused extensive damage to the house or its contents.
Opportunistic theft during public disorder, such as a riot, would also see an offender facing the maximum sentences under the new guidelines.
The proposed changes are the first since guidelines for judges and magistrates on burglary were issued in 2012. They reflect a toughening in sentences by courts where they are already taking more account of the emotional impact of such crimes.
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A similar scale is also proposed by the sentencing council for “culpability,” where burglars would be at risk of the maximum five years in jail if there was a “significant degree of planning or organisation,” they were caught with a knife or weapon, or if they targeted a “vulnerable” victim such as an older person.
District Judge Mike Fanning, a sentencing council member, said: “Burglary disrupts lives and businesses, and can cause tremendous anxiety to the victims of it. It is important that sentences reflect the seriousness of these offences.
“The proposed revised guidelines introduce a broader range of offence categories. Our aim is that judges and magistrates will more readily identify the appropriate sentence starting point, which they will then adjust to take into account the aggravating and mitigating factors specific to that case.”
The sentencing council said there was already evidence to show that courts had taken on board previous guidance which advised them to take account of the “economic, sentimental or personal” value of property stolen in a burglary, though not in as explicit terms as in the new recommendations.
Not only had average sentences for burglary increased since the first guidance in 2012 – from two years 10 months to three years and two months – but the proportion of offenders being placed in the top bracket for the toughest punishments had jumped from 15 per cent to 35 per cent.
The new guidelines are also expected to be updated to include plans for repeat burglars to face a mandatory minimum three years in jail for a third offence.
The extra 20,000 police officers being recruited over three years as part of the law and order strategy could also see more burglars being brought before the courts.
The Telegraph revealed last month that almost one million burglaries have gone unsolved in the past five years, amid warnings that cuts to neighbourhood policing have left homeowners at the mercy of criminals.