He earned the nickname “Rogue ‘n Nosh” for his habit of eating slap-up meals in Indian restaurants and then announcing he couldn’t pay.
Yet Patrick Ryan escaped another stint in jail, despite clocking up a record 630th offence - most of them for food and drink fraud - and running up a bill for taxpayers of up to £3m.
Instead the 60-year-old from Preston was handed a £110 fine after being unable to pay for his breakfast in a cafe - and then urinating against the wall.
Ryan admitted the charge and also breaching the terms of a sex offenders’ order by failing to register his address.
“This takes him to the 630 offence mark,” defending solicitor Robert Castle told magistrates in Blackpool.
Ryan’s serial offending, dating back more than 40 years, could have cost the public purse £1m in prison costs alone.
He is believed to have the longest list of convictions in England and Wales - so long that police were forced to put a “do not print out” warning on their computer to save paper.
Stretching to almost 100 pages, a judge at Preston Crown Court once confessed it would take “a very long time just to read it out.”
Ryan’s record is thought to be the longest by some way. In 2013 it was revealed in Parliament that the most prolific criminal at that time had 567 offences to his name, with the second-placed a long way behind on 399.
Ryan, of Priory Street, Ashton, was already on his 474th back in September 2005 when he was jailed for four-and-a-half years for burglary.
Having been in and out of custody since the age of 14, he had already spent 23 years behind bars before he reached the age of 50.
Home Office figures show a year’s stay in jail costs £45,000 per inmate - more than at a top private school like Eton.
But the cost to taxpayers of dealing with Ryan’s frequent arrests and court appearances could be another £2m on top.
Official Home Office figures dating back 12 years put the cost of processing one theft offence as low as £340.
Yet in a recent case of a homeless man in Lytham, who breached an ASBO around 45 times, the case was estimated by his own solicitor to have cost the public purse more than £2m.
In London the Metropolitan Police say prolific offenders cost the criminal justice system almost £80,000 a year each.
One offender left the system with a bill of £400,000 for a spree involving 44 court appearances and 76 charges - only a fraction of Ryan’s conviction record.
Dealing with such high intensity cases is seen as a “massive drain” on Lancashire’s dwindling police service.
“An inordinate amount of time and money is being spent on bringing this offender (Ryan) to justice,” said Rachel Baines, chairman of the county’s Police Federation.
“I couldn’t say for sure just how much this one man has cost. But this is time and money that could be better spent doing other things.
“Police time needs to be prioritised. With falling officer numbers, repeat offenders like this are a massive drain on our resources.”
Ryan’s latest brush with the law came as he was on his way back to Lancashire from a stay On Her Majesty’s Service at Barlinnie Prison in Scotland.
Bizarrely dressed in a hospital gown and white paper suit, he ate a hearty breakfast at the cafe in Victoria Road, Thornton Cleveleys before confessing he could not pay for it.
His solicitor Robert Catle said: “My client had a travel warrant to get to Preston.
“However, because of the floods, the train stopped at Motherwell and everyone had to get off.
“Alcohol was taken by Mr Ryan and he ended up in hospital before he continued his journey.
He then arrived in Preston and more drink was taken and he failed to pay for a meal and was arrested there.
“He then came to Blackpool where he was arrested for the cafe offence and the order breach.” During a previous appearance before the resort’s magistrates, the court was told most of Ryan’s offences had been for theft and were drink-related.
More than 420 were for gaining meals and drink by fraud.
Preston crook has a resort rival
Patrick Ryan has a challenger to his title in the shape of one-man crime wave Glenn Stacey.
The 56-year-old, dubbed the “Blight of Blackpool,” is now approaching his 400th offence - still some way short of his Preston rival.
Stacey was banned from the town centre last year after a catalogue of shoplifting cases and breaching his anti-social behaviour order (ASBO).
“People like this are an administrative drain on the system,” said retired magistrate Bob Hutchinson.
“Repeat offenders who keep coming back in for stealing £20 or £30 are a real problem. You have got to do so much work before you would consider sending them to prison.”
Stacey’s last appearance in court in the resort came in November when he was sent down for 42 days for stealing £42 of male toiletries from a Boots store.
Another theft charge, involving a floor cleaner for the town’s Ibis Hotel was withdrawn.
Police say dealing with prolific petty criminals is preventing officers from investigating more serious offences.
‘Shocking’ re-offending figures
Re-offenders could be responsible far as many as 77 per cent of all crimes, according to a study carried out in London.
“Shocking” figures collated in the Metropolitan Police area show re-offending has risen to just over 25 per cent in the past 10 years, meaning a quarter of criminals are convicted or cautioned for a new crime within 12 months of their previous offence.
The proportion of offenders with more than 15 previous crimes to their name has now risen to just over 20 per cent. The capital’s deputy mayor Stephen Greenhalgh said the figures demonstrated that too often efforts to tackle re-offending were failing. “This failure to grip almost 4,000 habitual career criminals has cost London taxpayers £163m (over three years) not to mention the harm that their repeat crimes have done to victims.
The study, carried out by City Hall, showed the bill for dealing with the crimes of prolific lawbreakers came to almost £80,000 a year per offender.