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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Golf ball man freed
John Collinson in a lake retrieving golf balls
Mr Collinson donned diving gear to find the balls
A man who was sent to prison for six months for taking lost golf balls and selling them on has had his jail sentence quashed.

John Collinson of Chorley, Lancashire was released by two judges at the Court of Appeal.

The 36-year-old was originally jailed at Leicester Crown Court on 26 April after being convicted of theft.

On Monday the appeal judges agreed with Mr Collinson's barrister the sentence was "disproportionate" to the offence and a non-custodial sentence was more appropriate.

Mr Collinson now plans to lodge an appeal against his conviction as well.


Even after this offence you were back and stole there again while on bail

Judge Richard Bray, at Mr Collinson's sentencing
Mr Collinson had originally been caught with his helper Terry Rostron, 24, also from Chorley, during an overnight dive at a golf course in Leicester.

The Court of Appeal in London imposed a two-year conditional discharge meaning Mr Collinson, who was released on bail on 3 May, does not have to return to prison.

A member of his legal team described him as "a very happy man" after the sentence was quashed.

Mr Collinson served nine days of the sentence before being released on bail.

Recycled golf balls
Mr Collinson had more than 1,000 balls when arrested
Mr Collinson, who is known by his middle name Mark, was present in the dock as Lord Justice Potter and Mrs Justice Lafferty announced their decision.

But Lord Justice Potter warned the court did not regard the offences as "trivial" and its decision to impose a conditional discharge was not a "let-off" and should be seen as a deterrent to further nocturnal operations.

At his trial Leicester Crown Court heard how Mr Collinson and Mr Rostron donned wetsuit and flippers and went on diving expeditions to collect balls and sell them on.

On the night they were arrested Mr Collinson and Mr Rostron had fished out 1,158 balls with nets from ponds at the course and placed them in two sacks.

Police were alerted by a burglar alarm sounding in the clubhouse at Whetstone Golf Club in Leicestershire.

Prison 'humiliation'

When they were charged with theft Mr Collinson said lost balls belonged to no-one and they were within their rights to take and sell them.

He had even returned to the course to scour for more balls while on bail for the offence.

Passing sentence at the time of his conviction, Judge Richard Bray told Mr Collinson: "This has been going on for 10 years.

"It is obvious you show no remorse and no intention of quitting.

"Even after this offence you were back and stole there again while on bail."

'Full of fear'

After he was released on bail Mr Collinson told a newspaper the humiliation he suffered had made him feel "lower than a dog".

He said: "It was terrifying. I had to strip off and stand naked while an officer took my personal belongings and gave me a uniform.

"I was full of fear. It kept coming over me in waves. I had no idea what was going to happen next."

He said his cellmate at Leicester jail had tried to help him through the ordeal but he could not adjust to being in jail.

"He told me to create a little world in my head and forget about everything else. But I couldn't," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's George Eykyn
"Golfers agreed that jail was too harsh"

Click here to go to Lancashire

Click here to go to Leicester
See also:

04 May 02 | England
01 May 02 | England
26 Apr 02 | England
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