The Wrong Trousers : Britain’s most prolific thief who has been in court every year since 1959 jailed again after stealing a pair of trousers – then taking them back to complain they were too small

Serial thief Robert Knowles (SWNS)
Serial thief Robert Knowles (SWNS)
Serial thief Robert Knowles (SWNS)

Britain’s most prolific thief who has committed nearly 350 offences is back behind bars after stealing a pair of trousers – then complaining they were too small.

Sticky-fingered Robert Knowles, 68, began his criminal career at the age of 13 – and has appeared in court every year since 1959.

His stealing spree has spanned seven decades and he has spent most of his adult life behind bars after being convicted of a staggering 271 thefts.

The homeless alcoholic has now been sentenced for the 193rd time – after he helped himself to ill-fitting trousers and jacket from Marks and Spencer.

He was still moaning about their size when he was caught by police wearing them.

Edward Bailey, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “He was upset because the trousers he had stolen were too small.”

He was first sent to a correctional school in 1959 and has been back in court charged with theft every year since.

And his record is so long prosecutors have lost track of his expansive rap sheet and it is believed he is now heading for nearly 350 offences.

During his latest sentencing at Plymouth Crown Court, Judge Paul Darlow said his previous convictions “smashed the previous record” for anyone else he had sentenced.

He told the defendant’s barrister: “I do not know what I should do. There can be no realistic prospect of community disposal.

“He has no accommodation and will find himself the quickest, probably illegal, way to get himself drunk as quickly as possible.”

Knowles was jailed for a total of five months.

He has previously admitted he is “resigned to spending the rest of his life in prison” – because he cannot cope with the outside world.

The crook typically steals something of low value every time he is released from jail, in an apparent attempt to get himself locked up again.

He pleaded guilty to theft of the jacket and trousers from Marks and Spencer and theft of the alcohol, socks and cheese from Sainsbury’s, both on May 12.

He also admitted breaching a conditional discharge imposed by Exeter magistrates only three days before for threatening criminal damage in which he threatened to smash a shop window.

Mr Bailey said he was still wearing the trousers and jacket from Marks and Spencer which still had security tags attached.

The Marks and Spencer’s outfit was worth #158 and the haul from Sainsbury’s was worth #61, the court heard.

Ali Rafati, for Knowles, said: “He is a long-term alcoholic with no family support. He relies on hand-outs and alcohol. Alcohol is taking its toll on him. His memory has suffered and he struggles to get himself dressed.

“He feels it is time to live with the support of those who can help him.”

But he said that Knowles felt he was becoming too old for prison, where he was being treated badly by the younger inmates.

Judge Darlow jailed him for four months on the latest shoplifting offences, with an extra month for the breach of the conditional discharge.


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