A BUNGLING burglar who ransacked a family home before setting it on fire got caught out because he left his mobile phone inside the burning building.
Tony Bytheway, 40, from Bognor Regis, was high on drugs when he stole thousands of pounds worth of jewellery, watches and laptops and after torching the Findon home, made off in one of the owner’s cars.
Tragically two family pets died as a result of the fire.
When the owner returned from holiday and examined his devestated home, he found an iPhone with the culprit’s name and address, along with details of what he planned to loot.
On Friday, Tony Bytheway, of Glencathara Road, Bognor Regis, was jailed for a total of seven years eight months at Chichester Crown Court for burglary and arson where there was a risk to human life.
His misplaced phone also incriminated his three accomplices; Matthew Hardy, Deborah Bytheway and Natasha Cardwell - Tony Bytheway’s ex-wife and former partner respectively.
The three, all from Bognor Regis, were also sentenced on Friday, April 24.
The court heard that Tony Bytheway’s actions on the night of February 16, 2014, had ‘left a huge impact’ on the life of owner John McCormack and his family.
Along with stealing around 200 watches, 60 ‘of high value’ including rolexes, Tony Bytheway also looted Mr McCormack’s daughter’s laptop with all her coursework.
He also took jewellery including a diamond eternity ring worth £5,000 and other items with sentimental value, including Mr McCormark’s grandfather’s medals from the war.
At some point during the raid Tony Bytheway realised he had lost his phone, an unable to find it he decided to start three fires in the property in the hope of destroying everything in it, the court heard.
The blaze caused £70,000 worth of damage and was started with the family’s dogs and pet birds all inside. Two of the parrots later died as a result of their injuries.
Prosecuting, Gabby Henty said Mr McCormack had been abroad in Singapore and that a neighbour who was house-sitting had been out that evening having a meal.
Ms Henty said: “He was at the airport when he got a message to say what had happened and his witness statement describes his reaction to seeing his property.
“He said ‘it looked completely devastated, everything has been destroyed either by fire, smoke or water throughout the entire house’.
“The house had been completely ransacked, every single room had been emptied and the damage meant the family had to move out into temporary accommodation while the building work was conducted.”
Six sets of car keys were also missing, and one of the eight cars, a Subaru Impreza, had also been taken.
Mr McCormack did however discover an iPhone which was unlocked, and it contained the name of it’s owner, Tony Bytheway, a person who was known to Mr McCormack.
It also had notes on where items were kept, such as the safe, keys to a Landrover and power tools. Later the court heard that Tony Bytheway had planned the raid knowing the property would be empty.
Police also found messages on the phone to all three accomplices and when they raided their addresses they found many of the stolen items.
The court heard that both Tony Bytheway and Matthew Hardy had a string of previous convictions, including burglary dating back to the early 1990s, and both had spent time in prison.
Defending Tony Bytheway, Miss Victoria Maude said he had been ‘sickened’ by what he had done.
She said: “Arson was never his intention, but when he realised he had lost his mobile phone he decided to start a fire to obliterate any evidence that he had been there.”
She said that on the night of the burglary he had taken the drug subutex, a substitute for methadone.
Sentencing him to seven years and eight months imprisonment for arson, and four years concurrently for burglary, as well as 18 weeks consecutively for breaching a suspended sentence, recorder Mark Milliken-Smith said Tony Bytheway showed no regard for the family he was hurting.
He said: “Not only was it your intention to steal everything of value by burgling the property, but by starting three fires you sought to cover your tracks and in doing so recklessly endangered life.
“You not only completely ransacked a family home but in destroying the property you also tragically killed two of the family’s pets.”
Matthew Hardy, 36, of Merchant Street, Bognor Regis, was jailed for a total of 12 months and 28 days for handling stolen goods and possession of cocaine, with his previous convictions an aggrevating factor.
Deborah Bytheway, 45, of Ashbee Gardens, Bognor Regis, was handed a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, for conspiracy to commit burglary after playing what the judge called a ‘limited’ role in driving him to the scene.
Natasha Cardwell, formerly of Bognor Regis and now of Oakfields Close, Newbury, was handed a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, for handling stolen goods and possession of a small amount of cannabis.