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Thief gets two-year ban from places of worship after targeting Highland churches

By Ali Morrison

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Stuart Lilley.
Stuart Lilley.

A thief who targeted churches and schools has been banned from going to places of worship for the next two years and warned he will be facing up to five years in jail if he is caught breaching the court order.

Drug addict Stuart Lilley (48) was appearing at Inverness Sheriff Court for sentencing after admitting a total of 11 charges of dishonesty across the Highlands. It had been deferred for a variety of reports.

Lilley was originally facing a total of 25 offences but his pleas of not guilty to the majority of them was accepted by fiscal depute Robert Weir.

Sheriff Gary Aitken told Lilley his behaviour was "repugnant and a truly appalling course of dishonest conduct. You were in the habit of targeting churches because you think they are a soft target for cash to feed your drug habit.

"Jailing you for the longest time humanly possible for me would be richly deserved and your addiction to drugs is your fault. But I am told the penny has dropped that you are motivated to change.

"It is only the fact that is backed up by the reports that are before me that steers me away from a jail sentence. If you don't take this opportunity that I am giving you, you will face the gravest of consequences."

Sheriff Aikten placed Lilley on a drug treatment and testing order for the next two years with a review in four weeks. He also instructed him to carry out 150 hours of unpaid community work and remain under social work supervision for two years.

Lilley's crime spree began on June 28 or 29, 2021 when he broke into the Watermill Enterprises premises at Cantray Bridge near his home in Dalcroy Green, Croy and stole £400 in cash. His DNA was found on a tool he left behind in the premises.

He returned to the same building on August 13 that year and broke in with intent to steal.

On December 21, 2021 his next target was the Crown Church in Inverness where he stole £100. Again his DNA was found inside.

Ten days later, on December 31, 2021, he broke into St Ninian's RC Church on Culduthel Road, Inverness and stole several hundreds of pounds.

On January 5, 2022, CCTV recorded him in the Barn Church, Culloden where he had later broken into a cupboard with intent to steal.

The court heard that he was particularly active between February 1 and 6, 2022.

On February 1, he was found in the Crown Primary School in circumstances where it could be inferred he intended to commit theft.

The following day, on February 2, he was again filmed attempting to break into Bowhunter Archery in Balnagowan Woods near Nairn.

Then later that day, he was found in suspicious circumstances in Dornoch Academy. On the same day or the following morning, he broke into the Mansfield Hotel, in Tain by smashing a window and stole a set of keys.

DNA from his blood once more confirmed he was the culprit.

Four days after that, he attempted to break into Dornoch Cathedral.

The court heard that the court eventually imposed a bail condition that Lilley did not enter religious premises.

But on January 12, 2023 he breached that by breaking into St Columba Church in Nairn by smashing a window with intent to steal.

Again blood found in the church was confirmed as his.

Defence solicitor Marc Dickson said: "He has to accept this course of behaviour is quite dreadful but there seems to be a genuine motivation to do something about this.

"His drug addiction goes back some three decades and he has sought help."

View our fact sheet on court reporting here

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