A career criminal who committed his first theft during World War II and has spent 50 of the past 56 years in prison was back behind bars today – aged 75.
Dennis O’Brien is one of Britain’s longest serving criminals and boasts 35 convictions for 70 crimes since he was caught stealing aged nine years old in 1945.
The petty criminal, who is described by fellow lags as ”a bit of a rascal”, has been locked up 13 times for burglary, forgery, arson and handling stolen goods.
O’Brien gave the thumbs up as he was sent down for another two years at Norwich Crown Court on Thursday for stealing £7,900 of antiques from a stately home and handling stolen goods.
The court heard O’Brien has been ”institutionalised” by prison and should be ”in his slippers in front of the fire” rather than carrying out burglaries.
Jonathan Dunne, prosecuting, said: ”His offending goes back a very long way. Mr O’Brien is 75 years old and he was first before the courts in 1945.
”He has a large number of previous convictions for house breaking, burglary and the like and served over the years very lengthy prison sentences.”
Melanie Benn, defending, added: ”Mr O’Brien is somewhat unabashed about his criminal behavior.
”He’s 75 and should be sitting in front of a fire wearing slippers and drinking whiskey rather than burgling.
”He describes himself as institutionalised and that is very much the situation.
”Given the amount of time spent in the penal system it would be surprising if had learnt after 75 years a different way to live but that is the situation we are left with.”
O’Brien was first jailed in 1954 at the age of 19 after he was found guilty of robbery and sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Since then he has been jailed for forgery, handling stolen goods, wounding, burglary, arson and possession of a knife.
Unmarried O’Brien spent many of his teenage years in Borstal after he was caught aged nine stealing food during World War Two.
He committed other theft and petty crime during that period but records are unavailable.
O’Brien admitted two counts of handling stolen goods after police raided his flat in Kettering, Northants, in April, following two house burglaries in St Neots, Cambs.
Detectives found a watch, two silver earrings, a gold key and six assorted jewellery boxes which O’Brien claimed he was selling to dealers in London.
He was convicted of a break-in at a stately home in Sutton, Norfolk, following a trial at Norwich Crown Court last month.
O’Brien, who has hearing problems, stole antiques worth£7,900 but was tracked down from DNA left behind on a whiskey glass.
Judge Paul Downes sentenced O’Brien for two years for the burglary and three months for handling stolen goods, which will run concurrently.
He said: ”I take into account your age but these burglaries are on vulnerable properties for valuable belongings and the court takes a dim view of that.
”You must have been told this on numerous occasions in your long life.
”I’ve got to send you to prison, I can’t see any other way of dealing with you.”
O’Brien, dressed in a tweed jacket and black trousers, called out ‘OK thanks’ and gave the thumbs up before being returned to jail.
Outside court a fellow lag said: ”He’s just a bit of a rascal and an old-style criminal. He’s not nasty.
”Dennis is known in almost every prison in Britain because he’s been in most of them. He comes out and doesn’t know any other way of living.
”There’s no use rehabilitating him but he’s too old to go to jail. What do you. He has never had a wife or kids or life outside jail because he’s never had enough time.”
O’Brien has served in many Britain’s jails including HMP Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight and has worked as a prisons football referee.
April 1954 Robbery: 3 years
Sept 1956 Robbery: 7 years
Dec 1967 Forgery: 3 years
April 1973 Handling: 3 years
Dec 1974 Burglary: 5 years
April 1980 Wounding: 5 years
July 1980 Handling: 3 years
Nov 1986 Burglary: 10 years
Nov 1994 Burglary: 4 months
Jan 1999 Burglary: 18 months
Oct 2002 Arson: 6 years
Feb 2009 Possession of knife: 4 months
Sept 2010 Burglary and Handling: 2 years
TOTAL: 49 years 2 months