Remanded in custody over theft of hospital cylinders

A man who stole gas cylinders, worth more than £2,000, from two local hospitals claimed he was forced into the crime to clear a debt with an ex-convict.

Lloyd Griffiths, who was traced from fingerprints left at the scene, also claimed to have named his accomplices.

Sheriff Derrick McIntyre deferred sentence on the 24-year-old until February 8, telling him: “There is no question you will be going to prison for this, but if you wish to co-operate within the next two weeks, and that bears fruit, I may give you a discount.”

Griffiths, formerly of Lower Farnham Road, Aldershot, appeared from custody and admitted breaking into Hawick Community Hospital, Victoria Road, on October 13, 2011, and stealing a cylinder of nitrous oxide gas – commonly known as laughing gas.

The cylinder, worth £85, was recovered in grass nearby.

He also admitted breaking into Borders General Hospital at Melrose on the same date, and stealing a quantity of cylinders of medicinal gas.

The 17 cylinders stolen, worth £1,985, were not recovered.

Procurator fiscal Graham Fraser told how staff at Hawick Community Hospital heard “loud bangs” at the rear of the building around 2am.

“Three men, with hoods over their heads, were seen running off,” explained Mr Fraser.

He said the stolen gas cylinder, which belonged to the dental department, was found in nearby grass.

At about 5.25am the same day, a member of staff at Borders General Hospital went to the gas storage room and found the door ajar.

“The door frame had been damaged, and a padlock on the metal cage broken off,” said Mr Fraser.

Police viewed CCTV footage, which showed a light-coloured Ford Focus car sitting for about 15 minutes, and a person near the gas storage area.

Some 17 cylinders, worth £1,985, had been stolen.

The fiscal told the court: “Finger prints were taken, and found to match the accused, who was arrested.”

Asked by the sheriff why the cylinders were of interest to thieves, Mr Fraser replied: “I suspect the value is in the metal.”

He went on: “It is clear that there is organised targeting of these items throughout the country.”

Defence solicitor Mat Patrick said his client had “acted with others in this enterprise”.

The solicitor told the court: “He says that certain pressure was put on him to become involved in the scheme.

“He moved from Aldershot to Newcastle, to live with his girlfriend, and to put some distance between himself and old acquaintances.

“An old acquaintance was released from prison and he owed him money, and it was made clear to him that if he couldn’t pay, he would have to assist in this enterprise.

“Although the bulk of the cylinders were not recovered, he says that he never saw where they went.

“He presumes they were to be sold, but he did not gain from this, other than to clear a debt. He had no desire to become involved, but had no choice.

“He says that he did give the names of the other individuals to police.”

Griffiths was remanded in custody until February 8 for sentencing.