A pair of Romanian ‘rag and bone’ men who took a disabled teenager’s wheelchair to sell for scrap have been cleared of theft.
A court heard Gheorghita Stan and Florin Axima, who dragged 17-year-old Jack Benton’s wheelchair into their van after spotting it outside his aunt’s home in Watford, thought the chair was being thrown away.
In fact, Jack’s father had deliberately left it outside the house along with his son’s schoolbag ready for him to board a bus to college.
St Albans Magistrates Court was told the teenager suffers from Moebius Syndrome – a rare neurological condition that affects his muscle control and movement. Jack, a student at West Herts College, relies on the wheelchair to help him get around.
Stan, 28, and Axima, 36, who trawl the streets for scrap metal, sold the chair as scrap metal to be melted down.
The pair, both of Grays, Essex, were arrested on June 7 and charged with theft.
Jacqueline Lyon, prosecuting, had told the court that the pair were ‘dishonest’ and should be found guilty of theft.
The incident was dishonest according to the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people,’ she said.
Maria Moody, defending Mr Stan, told the court that he ‘mistakenly believed’ the wheelchair had been abandoned, adding: ‘The Crown has failed to establish the element of dishonesty.’
Mr Axima’s defence lawyer, Rebecca Filletti, said: ‘This was a mistaken but honest belief that this item had been left out to be thrown away.’
Magistrate Andrew Zucker said it was ‘clearly very unfortunate that a young teenager’s wheelchair was taken’, but found there was ‘no dishonest intent’.
He told the court the two men had made a ‘reasonable assumption that the wheelchair had been abandoned’ when they took it.
Speaking before the court case, Jack’s mother Sophie, 39, said: ‘It’s such a low thing to do.
‘Taking someone’s transport like that is taking away their freedom – to take someone’s wheelchair is no different to taking a blind person’s dog.’
His aunt Louisa Rowe, said: ‘We go through this routine every morning. His packed lunch was in his rucksack which was sitting on his chair ready for him to go to college.’
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