A man asked to be jailed after smashing up property in his accommodation — but magistrates denied his request.
Josh Bergers used a cricket bat to destroy lights, a computer monitor, flat-screen TV and other items at his supported housing in Ashley Down Road, Bishopston.
The 32-year-old asked to be imprisoned rather than face a rehabilitation requirement, after he “really didn’t click” with his probation officer, whom he accused of “painting a picture” of him.
Bergers, who gave his address as Hartcliffe’s Barbour Gardens, made the unusual request when he appeared at Bristol Magistrates’ Court on August 10, pleading guilty to criminal damage.
But the magistrates decided to instead defer sentencing for three months in the hope Bergers would be in a more stable position by the next court date.
Prosecutor May Li said the first criminal damage happened on April 4, when Bergers had an argument with a member of staff at his Bristol Housing and Support accommodation.
Another resident had complained that Bergers was asking to be cooked for, “without returning the favour”. When a staff member suggested Bergers cook for others, the defendant started shouting and “became irate”, Ms Li told the court.
She said: “Mr Bergers stormed into the adjoining staff office, an area off limits to residents. Two other staff members were there at the time.
“He continued to swear about having to cook for others, and tried to force the rear sliding patio door in anger.”
Bergers then picked up a keyboard and computer monitor — valued at £260 — and smashed them on the desk before hurling them onto the floor, leaving both items “completely destroyed”, Ms Li added.
She continued: “He went outside and picked up a bottle from a recycling bin. He paced up and down while carrying it, then put it back in the bin and walked away from the area.
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“The next offence came later in the month, on April 25, when a support worker saw Mr Bergers using a cricket bat to strike a computer monitor in the main office. He struck it several times until it was damaged.
“The support worker saw Mr Bergers on CCTV, using a bat to hit lights above a pool table several times until it smashed.”
The employee also suspected Bergers was responsible for damage to a wall-mounted flat-screen TV, which had been left with three dents and holes in the screen and no longer worked.
“Mr Bergers told police he had no recollection of the incident,” Ms Li said. “He only remembered consuming four or five alcoholic beverages earlier that evening.
“He says he has a brain injury which causes erratic aggressive behaviour and also seizures.”
‘It doesn’t make sense’
The lights were worth £400, the monitor £300 and the TV £1,700, on top of the £260 damage from earlier in April, amounting to £2,660 in total.
Ms Li said Bergers — who has two previous convictions, from 2012 and 2015 — should pay £85 to cover prosecution costs.
Wearing a white Nike t-shirt in the dock, Bergers spoke out when the prosecutor had finished. He complained: “How does 85 add up to 2,000-and-something? It doesn’t make sense.”
His lawyer Ms Stetson explained to him the £85 related to prosecution costs while £2,660 was the value of the damage he caused.
Bergers interjected: “The first one was nothing to do with a food matter. They were arguing over the top of me.”
Ms Stetson told the magistrates: “It had been presented to him as a property with a significant level of support, and that was not his experience.”
She said her client would not be able to serve a curfew, because he does not have stable housing, or to do unpaid work, because he has a brain injury which puts him at risk of seizures.
“Mr Bergers has asked that instead he be given a custodial sentence,” she added. “I have explained to him that this may not happen.”
The court clerk advised the magistrates it would “not be usual” to impose custody in a case like this, though this “doesn’t mean you can’t”. He suggested the magistrates could ask Bergers to work with the probation service.
Asked why he wanted to go to prison, Bergers told the bench: “For the last 14 months I’ve been homeless, not able to cook or wash or clean properly. For me to keep up a scheduled probation while homeless and staying on people’s sofas just isn’t going to work for me.
“My plan in the future was to get into some part-time work. That was what the supported accommodation was meant to be about, but they didn’t help with that.
“I’m going to look into a place. I’m working with a social worker who’s trying get me into some form of housing. In the meantime I just feel it would be so much pressure onto me by giving me probation.
“The last probation call I had, me and the lady just really didn’t click and it felt like she was painting a picture of me already. I do have anger issues but the picture was painted. I can’t go through it, the non-trust thing.
“I have had seizures, a lot of problems with head injuries, I have had a friend murdered. I’m struggling on and off with drug and alcohol use.
“I was clean for seven years, and it’s only because I’ve been surrounded by people actively drinking and doing drugs [that I relapsed]. That was another part of me exploding like I did that night. Since April I haven’t touched a drink. That’s because I’ve been in the right company.”
‘Things didn’t go well’
Ms Stetson said there was a “particular tone” in the probation service’s report on Bergers which suggested “things didn’t go well”.
She said: “He doesn’t want to set himself up to fail, to then potentially be in breach [of a rehabilitation requirement]. It’s not his fault he had that horrific accident and finds it more difficult to express himself than before.”
Presiding Justice Dr Giles Brown said the problems Bergers had described were “the sort of things probation could help you with”. He suggested the defendant “may have just got off on the wrong foot” with the probation officer.
Dr Brown said he would give Bergers a chance to secure housing before handing down a sentence.
“We are, very unusually, going to defer sentencing for three months,” he added. “You will then let the bench know how you’ve been getting on. Once things get more settled, try to put that first experience with probation behind you.
“We anticipate that if stay out of trouble the next bench will sentence you to a community order of some form. Do you understand?”
Bergers replied: “Yeah I do. I appreciate that as well.”
When Ms Li asked if there were any terms for the deferment, Dr Brown smiled and said: “Not to reoffend.”
Walking from the courtroom, Bergers smiled back at the Presiding Justice and thanked him.