These ‘amateur and inept’ Sunderland thieves swiped fish worth £30,000

Dale Welsh (front) and Mark Swinhoe outside the magistrates' court.
Dale Welsh (front) and Mark Swinhoe outside the magistrates' court.
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A pair of thieves stole fish worth up to £30,000 from garden ponds – including some of which had been reared by the same family for generations.

Mark Swinhoe, 21, and his 25-year-old accomplice Dale Welsh, targeted three ponds in Southwick and Red House, making off with the “priceless” creatures, leaving owners heartbroken.

Fish in the pond in Robert Smithson's garden in Southwick. Mr Smithson was the victim of fish thieves Mark Swinhoe and Dale Welsh.

Fish in the pond in Robert Smithson's garden in Southwick. Mr Smithson was the victim of fish thieves Mark Swinhoe and Dale Welsh.

The pair also damaged equipment including water filters and pumps, worth hundreds of pounds.

Prosecutor Glenda Beck told Sunderland Magistrates’ Court how the three incidents all took place between 1.20am and 4am on May 27.

Victim Gemma Riley discovered at 11.15am that her pond had been disturbed and most of the fish were missing, leaving only two goldfish.

“She went to check her parents’ pond next door to find the pump had been pulled out and damaged beyond repair,” Ms Beck said.

“Ms Riley checked her CCTV and could see three males enter the garden carrying builders’ buckets.

“Over the next two hours the three males removed fish from both ponds

“She said her fish were worth £135, but that to her parents, were priceless. One of them was a Koi Carp that had been in the family for nore than 20 years and could be worth anything between £8,000 and £30,000.”

• Read more: Mum ‘sickened’ at Sunderland pond theft that included prized koi carp

Ms Riley said in a victim statement read out in court: “This crime has left myself and my husband and children in shock.”

Her father, Andrew McNaught, said in his statement: “It left me upset and distressed as we have taken a great deal of pleasure in looking after these fish for for more than 20 years. For us as a family these are in fact priceless.”

Third victim Robert Smithson woke at 4am to discover his house, in Southwick, had no power, Ms Beck said.

“Mr Smithson has a 14 by four foot pond with numerous fish he had collected over 20 years. He didn’t know the exact number, but he knew there was over 40.”

One fish had been returned, however, 15 to 20 are still missing.

Mr Smithson said in his victim statement that the theft has had a severe impact on him and that he can’t sleep at night.

Swinhoe, previously of Marley Crescent, Marley Potts, but of no fixed abode, and Welsh, of Redmond Square, Red House, both admitted three counts each of theft and criminal damage.

Jason Smith, defending both, said: “This arises out of a whimsical idea to set up or restock their own pond.”

District Judge Roger Elsey said he could only order compensation for the damaged equipment.

“I don’t think I can enter into the value of the ornamental fish,” he said. “That will have to be an issue for the civil courts.”

Sentencing them to a three-month, electronically-monitored curfew from 7pm until 7am, Judge Elsey told them: “There is no doubt that your foolishness and greed has caused a great deal of distress to your victims and it is the interests of the victims that I have to consider in deciding the appropriate sentence.

“You are both lightly convicted and these offences were clearly amateur and inept. I can’t order unpaid work as neither of you are fit for work and from what I can see, will not be fit in a reasonable time.

“A fine would be an inadequate punishment as it will be paid out of your benefits. The only punishment that I can impose is a curfew requirement.”

Both were ordered to pay £240 each in compensation towards the damaged equipment and £60 each in compensation for the “distress and inconvenience caused”, along with a £150 criminal courts charge and £50 towards prosecution costs.