A TEARFUL victim of crime himself 13 years ago, Liam Clegg was today waking up behind bars as Fylde’s most prolific burglar.
Back in 1998 – as an innocent eight-year-old – Clegg was pictured in The Gazette after his bike had been stolen by a gang of thugs.
In the decade which followed he descended into a life of crime. He has now been jailed after admitting carrying out more than 140 burglaries, thefts and criminal damage.
Taught how to steal by his own father, who used to take young Clegg on burglaries as he could fit through small windows, his six year crime wave netted him almost £20,000 in stolen goods and left a trail of victims across the Fylde coast.
Police who investigated the 21-year-old Clegg’s crimes admitted crime was “the only way he has ever known”.
The former Heyhouses Junior School pupil became a teenage tearaway while trying to fend for himself after the death of his parents.
Clegg’s drug dependent mother died when he was 13, followed two years later by the death of his alcoholic father. He was placed in care, battled drug and alcohol addiction, depression and self-harm.
It is a far cry from when he was eight when a gang of five youths confronted him on Clifton Drive North. They encircled him and forced him to hand over his prized BMX bike.
At the time of the theft, his mother told The Gazette: “He’s been in floods of tears. These older children are targeting youngsters – it’s terrible.”
The tables turned when Clegg was 11 and committed his first offence.
PC James Scantlebury, from Blackpool South burglary and auto-crime unit, said: “He’s a likeable lad. But he was brought up with parents who were alcohol and drug abusers.
“He was pushed into crime by his parents. His father took him out burgling when he was 10 years old. He taught him the ropes and sent him through small windows.
“From the age of 12 he was passed from pillar to post. From the age of 16 he was living in a bedsit. He’s not stealing to fund a drug habit, he was stealing to fund his lifestyle. It’s the only way he has ever known.”
Clegg, formerly of Grasmere Road, Blackpool, and Curzon Road, St Annes, was hauled before the youth court countless times, ordered to do community service and sentenced to three years in youth custody in 2008 after raiding 45 homes.
This week Clegg, who has 29 previous convictions for 55 offences, owned up to his part in a burglary on Palatine Road, Blackpool. Last month he came clean and admitted 85 more offences.
He accepts stealing £19,500 worth of goods from homes, commercial properties, sheds and cars across the Fylde coast between 2004 and 2010.
Roads in central Blackpool where he burgled homes and raided cars include Grasmere Road, Dunelt Road, Westmorland Avenue, Park Road, St Ives Avenue, Whitegate Drive and Knox Grove. In Marton, he targeted many roads surrounding Stanley Park including East Park and West Park Drive.
In Poulton he was responsible for a raid on Garstang Road and many of the roads leading off it. In Thornton he targeted Victoria Road West and the surrounding area.
Andrew Alty, defending Clegg, told Preston Crown Court: “He is a 21-year-old man who comes from a difficult background. He has been in care since he was 11, he had no proper role models to guide him. He had an alcoholic father who died when he was 15 and a drug dependent mother who died when he was 13.
“He’s an emotionally damaged and fragile young man. He has not had much to go for in life or hope – living in poverty emotionally and financially.
“From a very young age Clegg has been taking heroin, cocaine, valium and drinking alcohol. His first offence was when he was 11. That is any parent’s worst nightmare. Liam Clegg didn’t have parents who cared.
“It is a tragedy. He is now trying to clear the decks and start afresh.”
Clegg, who went to Lytham High School, was sentenced to 34 months in prison.
Police and social services say they tried to keep him on the straight and narrow.
PC Paula Robertson, who got Clegg involved in reparation work, giving out Neighbourhood Watch leaflets, when he was 14, said: “It’s a shame his life has taken this path. Potentially he’s a lovely lad but I think because of the lifestyle he was brought up in, witnessing criminal activity and drug and alcohol abuse, he has followed that direction.
“He has been given a lot of support by social services and other agencies who wanted to help him.
“I welcome the sentence he has been given. He will need help to rehabilitate in the community when he comes out.”
And PC Scantlebury added: “He has no role model in life. He can’t get a job because of his criminal record, he wants to live, he wants to take his girlfriend to the pictures and the only way he knows how to raise the money is to carry out burglaries.
“The only time he had a stable life in the last few years was when he lived with foster carers in Thornton. All the time he was with them he didn’t commit any offences. He was taught right from wrong.
“He’s a very street wise and clever lad. He’s got great potential to be whatever he wants to be.
“When he’s released from prison, as a multi-agency, we need to try and rehabilitate him into the community.”