A one-legged man caught raiding Wollongong letterboxes from his wheelchair has been spared a jail sentence after a magistrate accepted he would be vulnerable in custody.
Neville Peter Bauer, 37, was seen sitting in his wheelchair outside a Kembla Street unit complex on the afternoon of November 21 last year with his arm inside one of the lower letterboxes.
Upon seeing police, Bauer got out of his wheelchair and began hopping towards a garbage bin to dispose of some papers.
Police approached him and asked him what he was doing, to which he replied “fixing the letterboxes”.
Officers told him they had received reports that he had been opening letterboxes and letters – allegations he denied.
However, police found several open envelopes and letters addressed to people other than Bauer, on the seat of his wheelchair.
Under further questioning, Bauer told police “I was putting them back, they were all on the ground”.
A long-handled, four-pronged garden tool was located on the ground next to Bauer’s chair.
He said he had used it to pry a brick out of the ground, then used the brick to close the letterboxes.
Police examined the letterboxes, discovering some had obviously been forced open and others hit with a rock or brick.
Several residents from the unit complex who came to check on their letterboxes after police arrived discovered their mail had been tampered with.
Bauer returned to his wheelchair and wheeled himself to the back of a caged police vehicle.
He was taken to Wollongong Police Station where he was formally charged with appropriating mail.
Bauer pleaded guilty to the charge in court on Tuesday, with his lawyer Lemar Miakhel, saying Bauer had recently become a victim of crime himself after having his wheelchair stolen and now had to use crutches to move around.
Magistrate Chris McRobert handed Bauer a nine-month suspended jail sentence in lieu of time behind bars.
“His present disability would cause him particular hardship in terms of full-time prison and quite possibly delay the process of fitting his prosthetic limb,” he said.
“On that basis only I’m prepared to suspend the sentence.”