Sheriff refuses to grant compensation order for stolen £50k

Hamilton Sheriff Court.
Hamilton Sheriff Court.

A New Stevenston pensioner who lost his £50,000 life savings in a break-in has failed in a bid to have one of the culprits start paying back the cash.

Donnie Potts was part of a gang who targeted retired coal merchant Robert Lang’s home.

Hamilton Sheriff Court heard the OAP kept his savings in a bag under his bed

Potts (26), of Paisley, was jailed for eight months, but Sheriff Marie Smart rejected a request made by the Crown on the victim’s behalf to order the accused to pay £50,000 compensation.

Potts admitted involvement in the break-in in April 2013. His guilty plea last month came only at the end of a series of legal challenges by the accused. He claimed the charge should be thrown out because of delays in bringing the case to court.

His lawyers even went as far the Supreme Court in London, but that appeal was finally dismissed.

Potts’s DNA was found on a crowbar left behind in Mr Lang’s house. He had also deposited in a bank £14,500 in banknotes, many of which were distinctive because they were out of circulation, just like many of the notes Mr Lang had.

Vish Kathuria, prosecuting, said the break-in happened during the day when there was no one at home. A group of men wearing high vis jackets were seen at a vehicle outside the house, but it’s not known if they were connected to the raid.

Mr Kathuria told the court: “Patio doors were forced to gain entry. The bag with the money was stolen and a crowbar was left on the couch. This was examined and the DNA found matched that of the accused.

“During the following month Potts deposited approximately £14,500 in his bank account. The money was largely notes that were no longer in circulation.”

After Potts finally admitted his guilt, Mr Lang’s son Billy expressed anger that the case had dragged on so long, causing untold upset to his frail father, now aged 81, who hasn’t had a penny of the stolen money returned to him.

He said: “This has been a nightmare that has lasted almost five years. It’s been a shambles and we feel let down by the justice system.

“My dad was really upset at the prospect of giving evidence and was told to get ready for court on one occasion when he was suffering from an illness.

“Six or seven times we were told we had to go to court to give evidence before the hearing was cancelled at short notice.

“Potts should have been before a jury and getting a proper sentence, but instead he’s getting off lightly. His lawyer has played the system to the max.”

Potts’s solicitor claimed his client had debts and was forced to be a driver for the housebreaking gang.

He told the court: “He wasn’t aware the victim was elderly and didn’t know the value involved.”

The solicitor claimed Potts was paid £1,200 for his part in the raid. Asked how this squared with the £14,500 deposited in his bank account, he denied this was all Mr Lang’s money.

A compensation order would not be appropriate, he added, if Potts was in jail and had “no opportunity to pay it”.

Sheriff Smart declined the request for a direct compensation order. She was satisfied the Crown could use the Proceeds of Crime Act to “recover sums of money resulting from the accused’s offending”.

It’s not clear at this stage if the Crown will take such action or how much it would attempt to claw back from Potts.