Mansion burglars caught after boasting on social media

Date: Tuesday 9th January 2018

TWO men who burgled an Eden mansion which had previously been used as a multi-million pound cannabis factory have appeared in court.

Flass House, Maulds Meaburn, was used for the production of cannabis from 2010 to 2012 and resulted in a gang of criminals being jailed.

It was later returned to residential use but, last year, the mansion was again targeted when people calling themselves “urban explorers” broke in and recorded footage of the property, claiming it was an “abandoned drug lords’ mansion”.

These were posted on-line via Facebook, Youtube and the popular UNILAD sites, being viewed millions of times and spawning a host of copycat activity which has seen extensive damage to the house and items stolen.

The situation was outlined by prosecutor Mrs. Pam Ward at Carlisle Magistrates’ Court when Craig Stephen Sinkinson (29), Castle Court, Penrith, and Ben Hopkinson (26), Hyde Park, Edenhall, each appeared charged with burglary at Flass House.

Both were charged with burglary between 1st December, 2011, and 21st December, 2012, and pleaded guilty to the offences.

Mrs. Ward told the court that the mansion is owned by Christine Hodgson but was rented out from 2010 to 2012. It came to the attention of Cumbria police after it was used for the production of cannabis.

Since then the property has been kept secure and the owner has used it as a base while in the UK, although she has also lived abroad.

When the “urban explorers” video was posted on-line in 2017, comments were posted by three men admitting to stealing items. They included Sinkinson, who wrote that he had taken a clock, adding “hahahaha”, and Hopkinson, who posted “I’ve still got the microphone”. Police investigated the on-line comments and traced the two men.

The court heard that Sinkinson admitted stealing an ornamental clock but claimed it was worth only £50, despite the victim valuing it at £500. Hopkinson admitted stealing a microphone but claimed it was worth £100, as opposed to the victim stating it was worth £1,000.

In interview with police Hopkinson said he had been with a group of friends who went to Flass House after they heard it had been used as a cannabis factory. They went there to see if any of the drugs had been left.

At the house they saw a broken window and one of the group climbed in and opened a door from the inside. Hopkinson said they found only a small amount of rotting cannabis but he had taken the microphone. He said nobody was in the house and he did not believe it was lived in.

Mr. Sean Harkin, who represented the duo in court, said Sinkinson claimed the property was unsecured but admitted taking the clock.

Mr. Harkin suggested that because the clock had been stolen from a “mansion” it was unlikely to have had a serious effect on the owner and the offence had been committed five years ago.

The court heard that both men had previous convictions for drugs offences, while Hopkinson also had a conviction for violence.

The magistrates ruled that the case was so serious it should be committed to the crown court for sentence. Both Sinkinson and Hopkinson will be sentenced at Carlisle Crown Court on 2nd February and were released on unconditional bail.