A soldier who has served in Afghanistan was remanded in custody yesterday, charged with burglary after attempting to sell a guitar that was stolen during the riots. Gunner Liam Bretherton was arrested after trying to sell a Les Paul guitar.
By Victoria Ward, Nigel Bunyan, Thomas Harding and Martin Beckford
Gunner Liam Bretherton, 20, faces dismissal from the Army after walking into a guitar shop with a valuable Gibson Les Paul just 12 hours after a flagship music store in Manchester had been ransacked by looters.
He was arrested when the owner of the shop became suspicious and checked the serial number on the instrument. He then locked him in the shop until the police arrived.
Bretherton, who serves with the Royal Regiment of Artillery, indicated that he had been prepared to admit handling stolen goods but when the charge was upped to burglary pleaded not guilty.
Army sources admitted that they were braced for a number of soldiers to be charged following this week’s rioting as the majority are on summer “bloc leave” in August.
One suggested that it could be as a many as half-a-dozen. “I’m not sure that this will be the last soldier as a lot of young lads could easily get caught up in this,” he said.
Manchester City magistrates court heard that Bretherton, from the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, regarded as the top Gunner unit, had been in the Army for three years and had no previous convictions.
He claimed that he had purchased the instrument, worth almost £2,000, shortly after it was stolen because he had an interest in guitars but had not realised that it was a left-handed.
Gareth Brandon, prosecuting, told the court: “His account was that he\’d headed into Manchester having heard about the riots.
“It seems clear that it was the defendant\’s position all along to see what he could take. He has some interest in guitars and was very pleased to obtain this item.
“It was his account that he was present outside the shop being looted and paid £20 to one of the looters for this item.\”
Carol Mellor, defending, applied for bail, telling the judge that Bretherton, from Leigh, Wigan, was “certainly” not involved in the looting but had been prepared to plead guilty to the lesser charge of handling stolen goods.
\”Even if it was handling he realises how stupid he\’s been because he\’s put his career at risk,” she said.
\”Even if he\’s granted bail I\’m sure there will be an inquiry that could result in his discharge.”
District Judge Khalid Qureshi rejected the defence, criticising the “cavalier attitude” with which Bretherton had tried to sell the guitar.
He said: \”I find it hard to believe that someone with an interest in guitars just gravitated to a music store where a crime was being committed and ended up with a left-handed guitar by mistake.
\”I don\’t suggest that you were one of the people who forced themselves in, that\’s not the crown\’s case. Someone who would do this is not someone who can be trusted with bail.\”
Bretherton\’s mother, Eileen, sobbed as he was sent down to the cells. His distraught father, Alan, yelled from the public gallery: “He\’s been a good lad all his life, he\’d never been any trouble to us\”.
If the soldier is jailed will almost certainly face dismissal from the Army. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “All those who are found to fall short of the Army’s high standards or who are found to have committed an offence under the Armed Forces Act are dealt with administratively up to and including discharge.”
Bretherton is next due before the court on August 19.