1,000 raids Coney Hill burglar's message: "Crime doesn't pay"
HE burgled more than 1,000 homes and made in excess of £1million from his crimes.
But after being burgled himself, one of Gloucestershire's most prolific criminals is determined to stop others falling into a life of crime.
Robert Mayer is turning his life around and warning school children and young adults of the devastating effect crime can have on people's lives.
The 37-year-old, from Coney Hill, admits to carrying out numerous burglaries.
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He said: "Spending time inside has taken half my life away".
Robert was one of the first enrolled onto the Prolific and Priority Offenders' scheme (PPO), focusing on criminals who have made a 'significant impact' on law and order. The scheme was set up in 2005 involving the Probation Service, police and the Drugs Intervention Project.
Officers hope straight talking, regular drug testing and curfew orders will help keep regular offenders out of prison.
Offences by people on the scheme in Gloucestershire have reduced by 63 per cent since 2008, with burglary rates slashed by 20 per cent.
Robert, who had been in and out of children's care homes, youth detention centres and prison for much of his life, said social services had been at a loss to control his criminal ways, despite treating him to incentive European holidays skiing and to the Canary Islands and adventure trips.
"I realised the crime and the sort of people I was mixing with wasn't helping me or my family," he said.
"I have a past but I'm trying to put things right. Crime was part of my life when I was a boy. I was kept off school and couldn't read or write. My dad was doing very well out of crime, that was the life I wanted. I was mixing with older lads and there was a lot of peer pressure. It was all about who could do the bigger burglary, there was a lot of jealousy.
"It became all about money, fast cars, nice clothes and the lifestyle. It was never about drugs at first, that was something we did at weekends. I was responsible for a lot of crime and became well known to police.
"We wouldn't come home from burglaries at night unless we had made £500 each.
"We were going out at 4.30pm as soon as it got dark and carrying on until midnight, sometimes doing 10 to 15 a night.
"It's not something I'm proud of, but I've done well over 1,000 burglaries. I am ashamed. I've been burgled myself recently so I know how it feels but I didn't understand that then."
Soon his crimes included ram-raiding, but then a serious road accident in 1994 on the way back from a job at Edge caused the death of a close friend.
Breaking his legs in the smash, Robert was held under police guard at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital before escaping though a top floor window.
"I knew I was looking at a serious sentence, probably six years. I couldn't face that," he said.
"I had to get out of the hospital. I climbed out of the window onto the ledge and around the building back into the fire exit. I couldn't walk properly so slid down the banisters on my T-shirt on my belly to get down stairs through the fire escape.
"I got outside and called my friends who picked me up. I was arrested five days later and put on remand. That was when I was first offered heroin.
"It took the pain away for my friend dying and made it easier to deal with. I thought about suicide.
"Any man who says prison is easy is lying. When that door closes and you're sat there staring at the walls on your own, it hits you.
"I do feel remorse. That is why I wanted to get involved to help young people and join the police mentoring programme.
"There were good times in my past life, but they were far outweighed by the bad times. The message needs to get across that crime is not the answer."
Weekly meetings between offenders and police help map out a future path, away from crime. Many are resistant but others, like Robert, who are offered education, a bail hostel and skills training are determined to toe the line.
Vulnerable persons officer PC Dawn Collings said: "Robert does not glamorise his background or seek to glorify crime or prison - he gives a very frank account of the devastation he caused others and himself.
"Robert's experienced it first hand and wants to make sure these youngsters don't follow in his footsteps.
"So far the talks have been incredibly impactive and very effective."