Nine months for gas cylinder thief

A MAN who stole gas cylinders worth more than £2,000 from two hospitals has been jailed for nine months.

Lloyd Griffiths claimed he was forced into the crime to clear a debt with an ex-convict.

Twenty-four-year-old Griffiths, who was traced from fingerprints left at the scene, also claimed to have named his accomplices.

Griffiths, formerly of Lower Farnham Road, Aldershot, appeared from custody at Jedburgh Sheriff Court and admitted breaking into the community hospital in Victoria Road on October 13 2011 and stealing a cylinder of nitrous oxide gas – commonly known as laughing gas.

The cylinder, worth £85, was recovered in grass nearby.

He also admitted breaking into Borders General Hospital at Melrose on the same date, and stealing a quantity of cylinders of medicinal gas.

The 17 cylinders stolen, worth £1,985, were not recovered.

At a previous hearing, Procurator fiscal Graham Fraser told how staff at Hawick Community Hospital heard “loud bangs” at the rear of the building

around 2am.

“Three men, with hoods over their heads, were seen running off,” explained Mr Fraser.

He said the stolen gas cylinder, which belonged to the dental department, was found in nearby grass.

At about 5.25am the same day, a member of staff at Borders General Hospital went to the gas storage room and found the door ajar.

“The door frame had been damaged, and a padlock on the metal cage broken off,” said Mr Fraser.

Police viewed CCTV footage, which showed a light coloured Ford Focus car sitting for about 15 minutes, and a person near the gas storage area.

Some 17 cylinders, worth £1,985, had been stolen.

“Finger prints were taken, and found to match the accused, who was arrested,” added Mr Fraser.

Asked by the sheriff why the cylinders were of interest to thieves, Mr Fraser replied, “I suspect the value is in the metal.

“It is clear that there is organised targeting of these items throughout the country,” he added.

Defence solicitor Mat Patrick said his client had “acted with others in this enterprise.

“He says that certain pressure was put on him to become involved in the scheme,” explained Mr Patrick.

“He moved from Aldershot to Newcastle, to live with his girlfriend, and to put some distance between himself and old acquaintances.

“An old acquaintance was released from prison and he owed him money, and it was made clear to him that if he couldn’t pay, he would have to assist in this enterprise,” continued Mr Patrick.

“Although the bulk of the cylinders were not recovered, he says that he never saw where they went.

“He presumes they were to be sold, but he did not gain from this, other than to clear a debt.

“He had no desire to become involved, but had no choice,” said Mr Patrick.

“He says that he did give the names of the other individuals to police,” he added.

The nine-month jail term was backdated to January 18.