A prolific charity box thief who has spent years stealing from good causes is turning over a new leaf and has been donating his benefits cash to a hospice where his mother is dying, a court was told.
Ex-heroin addict Carl Anthony Mason, 33 – whose past victims have been the terminally ill – could have been locked up for the seventh time when he appeared before Burnley magistrates for yet another thieving spree.
But, he was allowed to keep his liberty, after the bench was told there had been a “remarkable change” in his life and he was now drug-free, with responsibilities – and spare money.
Mason, who now describes his pilfering ways as “ disgraceful,” is also facing chemotherapy, for what his solicitor described as “ the worst type of hepatitis”.
The defendant, now of Mayfield Close, Preston, was being sentenced after he struck again at Ladbrookes on Parker Lane, Burnley, on February 18, five days later at Premier Store in Preston and then at All Fresh grocers in Burnley, on March 9.
The defendant, formerly of Hobart Street, Burnley, had recently admitted three counts of theft of charity boxes.
He received eight weeks in prison, suspended for a year and must pay £85 costs and an £80 victim surcharge.
The court was told he had been caught on CCTV each time and one box had about £50 in it. The betting shop box was for the charity Ladbrookes in the Community and tin at All Fresh grocers was collecting funds for a local mosque.
Mason has almost 120 offences – almost 50 of them for theft – on his record and his past targets have included good causes collecting for sick children and injured soldiers. He has already been to jail six times.
In November 2011, he was locked up for 12 months for helping himself to seven Poppy Appeal collecting tins in Blackburn in the run-up to Remembrance Day. Last December, Mason was back in court when patients at Pendleside Hospice, Reedley, as well as the Poppy Appeal again, became the latest victims of his shameless actions.
The jobless father-of-three had pinched five more boxes in the Preston and the Burnley areas, days after being freed from custody, while on licence and subject to a community order. Again, he was caught each time on CCTV.
The defendant, who had used special cutters to free boxes from the straps holding them down, had been given a 28-day jail term. Mason had on that occasion admitted three charges of theft and asked for two offences to be considered.
Four of the charity boxes had been collecting money for Pendleside Hospice and one, snatched from a medical practice, was said to contain a “substantial amount of money”.
In the past, Mason has also helped himself to charity boxes for Marie Curie and Dogs for the Disabled. Last October, he received his fifth prison term when he was given 12 weeks for taking a collecting tin for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital from the Queen Victoria Pub in Burnley, on September 28.
At the latest hearing this week, the justices were told how Mason committed the most recent offences after he was released from custody and found himself on the streets and with no money after squatters had moved into his home. He had started using heroin again.
Probation officer Peter Slater told the court: “There has been a substantial change in his life. He tells me he has been entirely drug-free for six weeks.”
Mr Slater said Mason had moved to Preston to be with his father, as his mother was terminally ill.
He added: “He is receiving employment and support allowance, has no bills and he has all his benefits to himself. He tells me he had got money left and gave £50 to the hospice where his mother is resident. It seems like a sea change to me.”
Mr Slater added: “In my opinion, the court should be encouraged to mark this change.”
Graeme Parkinson, in mitigation, told the court Mason had committed the three offences when he fell back in with his old associates and developed a heroin habit again very quickly. He had no money, help, accommodation or family support and was very isolated.
The solicitor said in March, the defendant’s family had been told his mother had lung cancer, that had progressed, and she was now in St Catherine’s Hospice in Preston.
Mr Parkinson said there had been a “remarkable” change in Mason’s attitude. His father was dependent on him. The solicitor added: “There are good reasons why this man need not go to custody immediately.”