Payback order turns into terrifying ordeal

Brass Scales of Justice on a desk showing Depth-of-field books behind in the background
Brass Scales of Justice on a desk showing Depth-of-field books behind in the background

A vulnerable woman was left at the mercy of a career criminal sent to her house to carry out a community payback order - only for him to steal from her.

Robert McPhee has amassed convictions for theft, assault, robbery, breaching court orders, racially aggravated conduct, possession of offensive weapons, fraud and threatening and abusive behaviour.

Despite that record McPhee was given a community payback order on July 12 for charges of theft, shoplifting and being caught “in a place where it may be reasonable be inferred he intended to commit theft”.

He was sent to cut grass at the house of 59-year-old Sheena Duncan’s home in Arbroath - who said she is living in fear that he will target her again.

She said: “I’m relieved he has been jailed but I know he will be out again.

“I know he’s a career criminal. He knows my house now. I fear being targeted again.

“The police said if I ever see him again to ‘phone them straight away.

“This doesn’t help my anxiety, it just keeps me reclusive.

“I’m not against CPO’s in general, but when someone is involved in drugs and things like that I don’t think they work.”

Tory community safety spokesman Oliver Mundell said it was “baffling” that McPhee was sent to the home of a vulnerable woman.

A sheriff jailed McPhee for two years and three months and said it was a “concern” that McPhee had met his victim through his CPO.

McPhee - who was also on bail on two separate theft charges at the time - was sent to do gardening work at the home of “vulnerable” Miss Duncan in Arbroath as part of his CPO.

Instead he took advantage of Miss Duncan - described in court as “housebound” due to depression and severe anxiety - and turned up at her home repeatedly, before on August 20 this year showing up under the influence of a substance.

He knocked on the door and walked straight past the “terrified” woman when she opened it before falling asleep on the sofa.

A friend of the victim helped eject him shortly after - but he returned a few minutes later after the friend had gone.

Fiscal depute Jill Drummond told Forfar Sheriff Court: “He asked the complainer for the key to her shed, which she gave to him.

“He said to her ‘I came here for your strimmers, you don’t need them because you don’t need them.’

“The complainer says she gave him the keys because she was terrified of him and she thought that might make him leave.

“He and another male then went to the complainer’s shed and removed a lawnmower and two strimmers without her permission.

“The accused re-attended at the complainer’s home at about 3.30pm.

“The complainer felt too frightened to open her door but the accused entered the property through the open door and sat down in the complainer’s living room.

“She felt too frightened to ask him to leave.

“At one point she saw the accused walk into her bedroom.

“She told him she was going to call her friend and at hearing this, the accused left the property.

“Once he had left, she realised that her iPod, which had been charging in her bedroom, had been stolen.”

Miss Drummond said that four days later McPhee launched a vicious assault on a 39-year-old woman.

She said: “He took a hold of her in a headlock which caused her to feel breathless.

“An independent witness told the police he was ‘pulling her about like a rag doll’.”

McPhee, 28, a prisoner at HMP Perth, pleaded guilty on indictment to charges of theft, assault to injury and vandalism.

Defence solicitor Nick Whelan said McPhee was an “opportunist” rather than a “predator”.

He said: “He has a substantial criminal record dating from an early age.

“He has taken advantage of this situation.”

Sheriff Pino di Emidio jailed McPhee for 27 months.

He said: “It is a concern and a matter that the court treats as a serious aggravation that these offences occurred at the house of a lady who you were introduced to while carrying out unpaid work while subject to an order of the court.

“You choose to go to the house.

“You had previously worked there carrying out community service.

“I take an extremely dim view of that.”

Scottish Conservative community safety spokesman Oliver Mundell, said: “Serious questions have to be asked as to how this individual was allowed back into society when he still clearly posed a threat.

“This was someone with a long record of criminal activity, so it is baffling that anyone thought it would be sensible to send him to the house of someone who is vulnerable.

“Lessons need to be learned so we don’t have more people falling victim to criminals who should be behind bars.”