A violent shoplifter threatened staff with a wine bottle and spat in a policeman’s face during a six month crime ‘plague’ in Exeter and North Devon.

Giles Herbert was homeless and drunk or on drugs when he raided shops, smashed windows, and carried an arsenal of weapons including a knife, pepper and CS spray.

He kicked in a window of an electricity line worker’s van in Hartland after mistaking him for a traffic warden and smashed his way into a homeless centre in Exeter.

He was branded as a plague on the community by a judge who offered him a final chance to overcome his addictions to drugs and alcohol.

Herbert, aged 31, formerly of Venny Bridge, Exeter, but now living on his parents’ farm in North Devon, admitted two counts of theft and one of possession of stolen goods, three of criminal damage, two of possessing weapons, threatening behaviour and assaulting an emergency worker.

He was jailed for 13 months, suspended for two years, sent on a six month drug rehabilitation programme, ordered to do 70 hours unpaid community work and 25 days of rehabilitation activities, and to pay £580 compensation by Judge David Evans at Exeter Crown Court.

He said the only reasons he was not making the sentence immediate were the effect of the Covid lockdown on prisons and reports which showed that Herbert has been working well with the addiction service for the past four months.

Judge Evans told him: “You have been a bit of an individual plague on communities around North Devon and Exeter. I have to sentence you for a good number of offences committed on five separate occasions.

“The victim personal statement of the officer who you spat at said that your repulsive behaviour made him angry and he was very concerned when he learned there was a marker against your name on the police national computer indicating Hepatitis C. That was in the height of the first lockdown and there has to be a Covid uplift in your sentence.”

The court heard a catalogue of offences. On November 19, 2019, he and another street drinker named Ben Cardy, who has since died, were arrested for shoplifting in the centre of Barnstaple. Herbert had a knife and nine cans of pepper or CS spray on him or in the bag. There were two stolen bottles of bourbon, one half drunk, and a large amount of brand new clothes stolen from Marks and Spencer.

On November 27, a Western Power worker was checking lines at Hartland when Herbert and Cardy were drinking in a bus shelter. Herbert asked him if he was giving out parking tickets and then kicked in the driver’s window of his van.

In April 2020, early in the lockdown, he and Cardy turned up at Gabriel House and smashed a locked front door to get in, forcing staff to retreat to a locked room.

Herbert then ripped out a computer monitor, smashed bottles onto the floor and threw a sign with such force that it damaged a wall. He had a small amount of the heroin substitute Subutex on him when police arrested him in Market Street.

On May 10, he and his partner were seen shoplifting food and alcohol in Budgens in Magdalen Road, Exeter. They were challenged by staff and Herbert held a stolen wine bottle over his head and told them to get back.

They locked the couple in and called the police but Herbert kicked the door until it was opened and then kicked it as he left, cracking the glass. A female worker said she was terrified by the incident.

On May 26, residents in St Leonards saw Herbert lurking around their gardens and called the police. He spat in an officer’s face after being arrested in Mount Pleasant Road.

Brian Fitzherbert, defending, said Herbert has made changes in his life for the first time in a decade because of the death of his friend Cardy from drug related issues, and the pregnancy of his partner, who is due to give birth in February.

He said Herbert is now working with the drug service Together and has moved to his parents’ farm.

The report from Together recommended a drug treatment order and spoke in glowing terms about his progress and commitment.