SHOWED COMPASSION: Peter Moore, of Wardell, who still managed to find it in his heart to help a felon who stole from him.
SHOWED COMPASSION: Peter Moore, of Wardell, who still managed to find it in his heart to help a felon who stole from him. Jacklyn Wagner

How to catch a thief

WHEN Queensland jail escapee Damian Matthew Tait and his two co-offenders crashed a stolen car at Wardell in August, they did what any resourceful crook might do - try to steal another one.

Unfortunately for them, they picked the wrong guy.

Tait, 28, pleaded guilty in Lismore Local Court this week to two counts of breaking and entering at Wardell businessman Peter Moore's home and business office.

When Mr Moore found them at his front door asking for directions, he sent them on their way; only to discover moments later that three of his mobile phones were missing.

“Once I realised they'd been in my house, probably looking for car keys, I took off after them,” he said.

Mr Moore, a solidly-built, no-nonsense bloke, found Tait walking along the Pacific Highway a short distance from his home and confronted him.

Tait blamed his two co-offenders, who had hitched a ride back to their crashed car. Mr Moore insisted Tait show him where that was.

“We found them and I confronted the lot of them,” Mr Moore.

After Tait admitted he stole the phones, Mr Moore began to feel sorry for the motley crew. He let the other two go and said he wouldn't call the police if Tait returned the phones.

“He was really apologetic and said he'd hidden the phones in the bush. We spent hours looking for them because he was so drug addled. During that time I realised he wasn't a bad bloke, just messed up and misguided,” he said.

“I gave him a good talking to about respecting people's property. He kept apologising and even offered to work for me for free to make up for the inconvenience.

“I told it him it was okay, but there was one more person he had to apologise to - my wife.”

Mr Moore drove Tait back to his business premises, where he apologised to Mr Moore's wife Gayle, admitting he had a drug problem. They advised him to seek help, referring him to Riverlands, the detoxification clinic in Lismore.

“My wife gave him the phone number and I drove him back to the highway,” Mr Moore said. “He had a lump in his throat and said no one had been willing to help him like this before.

“Unfortunately, he got two steps into his new life and was picked up by the cops the next day, the poor bugger.

“I do understand these issues. Nearly all these crimes are drug and alcohol-related and there's just no help out there for them.

“The cops are the only ones who will come. They'll take them to the Richmond Clinic, who'll hold them overnight, then they're out and on their own again.

“If they do get through detox, it's nearly impossible to get into rehab. They have to ring every day for months and if they miss a day they're off the waiting list.”

Magistrate Michael Dakin said this week Tait was 'on the run' at the time of his arrest and had an extensive criminal history for dishonesty.

He sentenced Tait to a total of 15 months' jail for the phone theft offences and for receiving/disposing of a Holden Commodore stolen near the Palen Creek Correctional Centre, where he had escaped from on July 30.

He is appealing the severity of the sentence.

Tait will be extradited back to Queensland on his release to face charges over his escape from custody. His two co-offenders were picked up by police shortly after they crashed again near Evans Head.



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