Reprimand for judge who told burglar he needed 'a huge amount of courage' to steal from homes and set him freeJudge Peter Bowers faced criticism from David Cameron over his commentsThe PM said burglars were 'cowards' and their crimes were 'hateful'Serial burglar Richford Rochford burgled three houses in five daysJudge told his remarks were 'offensive' and a serious error of 'judgement'
16:14 GMT, 4 December 2012
A judge who told a burglar that stealing from homes took 'a huge amount of courage' before setting him free has been formally reprimanded.
Judge Peter Bowers admitted he could be pilloried for sparing Richard Rochford from prison at Teesside Crown Court when he made the comment in September.
David Cameron got involved in the outcry that followed saying that burglars were cowards, not brave, and their crimes were 'hateful'.
Judge Peter Bowers, left, was reprimanded for saying Richard Rochford, right, was 'brave' for carrying out burglaries in other people's homes
Following an investigation, the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice have upheld complaints about the judge’s comments and issued him with a reprimand after his remarks 'damaged public confidence in the judicial process', the Office for Judicial Complaints said.
They believed the use of the word courage was a 'serious error of judgement' and 'offensive' to those who have been victims of a burglary, according to a letter from the OJC to one of the complainants, radio presenter Nick Ferrari.
Judge Bowers told an offender who raided three homes in five days: 'It takes a huge amount of courage, as far as I can see, for somebody to burgle somebody’s house. I wouldn’t have the nerve.'
Handing 26-year-old Richard Rochford, from Redcar, a suspended 12-month term, the judge said: 'I’m going to take a chance on you', the Evening Gazette newspaper reported.
After acknowledging the trauma
burglary victims face, the judge explained he would not jail Rochford,
who had quit drugs since the February break-ins.
He was given a two-year supervision order with drug rehabilitation and 200 hours’ unpaid work, with a one-year driving ban.
Following the case, Mr Ferrari, who presents the LBC 97.3 breakfast show, sent a written complaint to the OJC after he was contacted by thousands of listeners venting their anger at the judge’s remarks.
Judge Bowers' comments at Teesside Crown Court caused an outcry and even attracted criticism from David Cameron
He said: 'These comments appear to praise this individual even though he was found guilty of his crime. In addition to this the sentence seems to reward this man for his behaviour rather than punish.
'He could have been jailed for two-and-a-half years but instead he was given a suspended 12-month jail sentence.
'The comment and the sentence has upset and angered my listeners, many of whom have been victims of burglaries.'
Following the decision to reprimand the judge, the OJC replied: 'Whilst His Honour Judge (HHJ) Bowers regrets his use of the word ‘courage’ the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice believe that this was a serious error of judgment and offensive to those who have been victims of a burglary.
'They also believe that HHJ Bowers’ conduct has been damaging to the respect of the judicial process. For this reason, HHJ Bowers has been issued with a formal reprimand.'
Announcing the decision, an OJC spokesman said: 'His Honour Judge Peter Bowers has been issued with a reprimand following complaints about remarks he made during his sentencing of a burglar at Teesside Crown Court.
'The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice considered his comments to have damaged public confidence in the judicial process.'