Would-be thief didn’t escape after being caught with ‘balaclava and screwdriver’ at The Grosvenor Hotel in Ilfracombe by its owner.

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A ‘balaclava’ clad man who broke into an Ilfracombe hotel received more than he bargained for when confronted by its karate black belt owner.

North Devon Magistrates’ Court heard on Friday how 41-year-old Paul Crack had been ‘rugby tackled to the floor’ by owner Raynor Wells after he discovered him inside the Grosvenor Hotel.

Crack, from Ilfracombe, indicated a guilty plea to burglary with intent to steal following the January 22 incident.

Mr Wells had come back to the hotel, which was closed for the winter season, at around 7pm to do admin work, when he heard a noise in the reception area.

He discovered Crack with a ‘balaclava’ over his face and a screwdriver in his hand.

Unfortunately for the would-be burglar, black belt Mr Wells, who trains at Barnstaple Shotokan Karate Club and has been practising karate for 25 years, was prepared.

Lyndsey Baker, prosecuting, said Crack began talking to him, apparently to distract him in an effort to escape.

“Mr Wells got him in a headlock and held him there for two minutes until he stopped struggling. He allowed him to get up so he could phone 999, but Mr Crack pulled the phone cord out of the wall,” she said.

The phone was reconnected, the police called and then Crack made another bid for the exit, but Mr Wells pursued and caught him with a rugby tackle.

The court heard that at police interview, Crack said he was one of three who entered the property, and that he was asked to be the lookout. Police searched the hotel but found no one else.

Tony Dart, defending, said: “Nothing was taken and there was only very minor damage where entry was gained. He regrets he was there and accepts it was a foolish thing to do.”

The court heard Crack had 31 previous convictions, including burglary.

Magistrates adjourned sentencing for a probation report and released Crack on conditional bail, to reappear before them on Friday.

Mr Wells told the Gazette it had all happened very suddenly: “I had the one chance to make sure he was not going anywhere.

“I did not strike him or anything like that, I had to restrain him. Let’s hope that the justice system does the right thing.”

He said the hotel had endured several thefts during the previous six to nine months and he was keen that whoever he discovered was not about to escape.

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