Sheffield student flats make ‘easy pickings’ for crooks says judge

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STUDENTS living in city centre flats offer “easy pickings” for burglars, a court heard.

Sheffield Crown Court was told that thieves are preying on students living in flats by “tailgating” them as they enter the premises, then following them in before the doors close to steal their personal belongings.

This type of theft has become “prevalent” in recent months in Sheffield as burglars the same age as the students easily blend in, prosecutor Brian Outhwaite told the court.

He was outlining the case against 24-year-old Neil Hopkinson, who stole two Nintendo Wii consoles, and PlayStation3 consoles and games, from a flat in The Pinnacles complex in Broad Street, Sheffield.

Hopkinson took the items from a flat in a communal area but was captured leaving the complex on CCTV cameras.

“This type of offence is familiar against students in the city,” said Mr Outhwaite.

Hopkinson and another man were later arrested.

His accomplice had robbed flats in the same complex on three separate occasions and was jailed for 16 months last month.

The court heard Hopkinson had 36 previous convictions and served two-and-a-half years in custody for a robbery in 2008.

Building site labourer Hopkinson, of Queen Mary Road in Manor, Sheffield admitted burglary on November 19 last year.

He also admitted stealing six bottles of spirits from the Co-op store in Base Green a month earlier, and asked for the theft of a £1,300 bicycle to be considered.

James Gould, defending, said that Hopkinson’s co-accused was the main mover.

The court heard that the communal area at The Pinnacles flats was empty at the time, but it was an unsophisticated theft as CCTV cameras were “everywhere.”

Hopkinson had split from his girlfriend, lost contact with his child and had taken to drinking heavily. He had also been drinking when he burgled the flat.

Judge Alan Goldsack jailed Hopkinson for 12 months.

He said the Co-op theft was “brazen” and the break-in at The Pinnacles was an offence that was “prevalent” in the city at the moment.

“It is very easy to get into these premises,” said the judge.

“All you have to do is wait for someone with the appropriate key or fob and go in. If you are the same age people don’t tend to question it.”

Hopkinson was given ten months for the flats burglary and two months consecutively for the Co-op theft.

The Pinnacles, close to Sheffield’s main Park Square roundabout and the city’s inner ring road, is home to hundreds of students studying at Sheffield Hallam University.

There are several other blocks of student flats in the city centre, housing thousands of students at both of Sheffield’s universities.

In February this year there was also a spate of thefts from shared houses in the Broomhill and Walkley areas of the city.