A MAN who went on a theft spree on trains across the South West has been jailed for two years.

Sean Paul McIlroy appeared at Exeter Crown Court on Thursday, 27 March 2014, having pleaded guilty to 19 counts of theft, following a British Transport Police (BTP) investigation.

The court heard McIlroy, aged 33, of Church Road, St Thomas, Exeter, had targeted passengers travelling on trains between 18 September 2013 and 7 January 2014.

Each time, McIlroy boarded a train and helped himself to suitcases or bags from the luggage racks before leaving the train when it next stopped at a station.

He stole luggage containing property with a total value of more than £11,000. The property stolen included medication, computers, clothing, jewellery and other accessories.

In most instances, the victims did not realise they had fallen prey to McIlroy until they arrived at their final destinations.

BTP detectives were made aware of the crimes and, after viewing CCTV, identified McIlroy as the prime suspect.

Detective Constable Dean Jeffery said: “I had arrested McIlroy for a similar series of offences in the past and I knew, as soon as I saw the CCTV, that he had struck again.”

On Saturday, 18 January 2014, officers acting on information they had received, attended an address in Church Road, St Thomas, Exeter. McIlroy was seen leaving the address and officers stopped and arrested him on suspicion of theft of luggage.

Outside McIlroy’s flat was a ripped open suitcase containing clothing which had been previously stolen from a train. A search was carried out on the flat and a passport belonging to one of the victims was found in a bedside cabinet. When asked, McIlroy admitted it was stolen.

When asked by officers if he was carrying anything sharp, McIlroy produced a pair of scissors from his pocket. They were siezed by officers. When interviewed, McIlroy stated that the scissors were used for opening suicases with locks. He was further arrested for going equipped to steal.

At Exeter Crown Court, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment for the £11,000 theft spree.

DC Jeffery said: “McIlroy is a prolific, persistent, thief who will now spend a significant period of time behind bars. He will have plenty of time to consider his actions and our arrest should serve as a warning to him – and others – that British Transport Police will act swiftly to take action against thieves who target passengers’ luggage on trains.

“Theft can be extremely personal as often the property stolen has sentimental as well as monetary value. It is, therefore, vital that all rail travellers are aware of their surroundings and keep a close eye on their belongings throughout the whole of their journey.

“The rail network is a relatively low crime environment but there are some people – such as McIlroy – who will happily seek to profit from the misfortune of others.

“We are taking steps to address this and will always seek to bring thieves to justice, but we also need help from the public to report all crimes and suspicious behaviour as soon as possible.”

If you witness anyone behaving suspiciously on the railway – or see a crime – call British Transport Police on 0800 40 50 40 or send a text to 61016. Alternatively you can call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

BTP is running Operation Magnum, a long term initiative designed to crack down on the theft of passenger’s property. As part of the initiative, officers have issued video clips to help the travelling public spot 13 of the most common tricks thieves use.