A 26-year-old man who carried out a spate of burglaries, including on the home of a north Belfast woman who passed away the night he targeted her property, was jailed yesterday.
Marc Samuel Spencer was handed a three-year sentence and was banned from driving for two-and-a-half-years after he admitted the crime spree.
Judge Stephen Fowler QC told Spencer that while he accepted there was no confrontation with the occupant, his actions compounded the pain of a grieving family.
Spencer, who at the time of his offending last February was residing at Centenary House on Belfast's Victoria Street, said he had no recollection of the spate of break-ins as he was under the influence of drugs at the time.
He admitted 16 offences including burglary, attempted burglary, three counts of aggravated vehicle taking and dangerous driving. He will serve half his sentence in jail and the other half on licence.
Before passing sentence, Judge Fowler QC was told that Spencer's crime spree involved creeper-style burglaries and attempted burglaries where he stole car keys from properties then took the owners' vehicles.
Crown barrister James Johnston said that some time between 10pm on February 11, 2018, and before 3am the following morning, Spencer broke into a house at Lismoyne Park. The male occupant had gone to bed and left his wife watching TV downstairs.
After breaking into the house and stealing the woman's handbag, car keys and car, Spencer failed to stop for police on the Ballysillan Road at 2.50am. When officers called to the family home to alert them to the theft, it emerged the female occupant had passed away.
Mr Johnston said a post-mortem revealed the cause of death "was not related to the defendant ... it was entirely natural under the circumstances".
He also said there was "no suggestion by the prosecution that the defendant would have seen or known know the deceased was in that room."
The barrister added that the break-in occurring and the woman's car and handbag being stolen the night she died "heightens sensitivities to the family".
Defence barrister Michael Loughrey said Spencer wanted to convey his "unreserved apology" and said the remorse he had since expressed was genuine and "not an empty gesture."
Mr Loughrey also spoke of a "glimmer of hope" and said Spencer had passed all recent drug tests in jail.