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Cheltenham-winning jockey has jail term for theft and handling stolen goods cut

Robert Widger aboard Native Emperor at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival
Robert Widger aboard Native Emperor at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival

A former National Hunt jockey jailed for theft and handling stolen property has had his prison sentence cut on appeal.

Robert Widger (38),with an address at Poplar Drive, Carriganard, Six Cross Roads, Waterford, pleaded guilty to theft and possession of stolen property at Bog Road, Monamintra, on dates between September 21 and October 21, 2014.

He was given an effective two year jail term at Waterford Circuit Criminal Court earlier this month.

Widger, who won the National Hunt Chase at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival on Native Emperor, successfully appealed his sentence on Monday with the Court of Appeal holding that a 12 month jail term would have met the objective of sentencing in this case.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice George Birmingham said six eight-metre long lighting poles had been stolen from a site at Waterford University Hospital.

CCTV footage revealed the part played by a black Land Cruiser jeep which was registered to Widger. He had gained access to the hospital by using his wife's swipe card.

She was an employee at the hospital, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

On foot of a search warrant, the lighting poles were recovered along with a mini-digger worth €25,000, a horse box worth €3,500, a double trailer as well as building equipment.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Widger was a married father of three-children. He was self-employed, involved in the training and breeding of horses. At an early stage in his career he was a National Hunt jockey in England.

A probation report was very positive from Widger's perspective.

It referred to his remorse, his low risk of reoffending and it recommended the Circuit Court to deal with the matter by way of community service.

Widger had also served his community by giving children horse riding lessons and he had assisted a young boy with learning difficulties to the extent that the boy is about to “embark on the Special Olympics” programme, the judge said.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the court was in no doubt that these were serious crimes of dishonesty.

However, in sentencing someone of previous good character, as Widger was, Mr Justice Birmingham said the sentence should not have been longer than necessary and 12 months could have met the objective of sentencing in this case. 

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Hedigan, resentenced Widger to two years imprisonment with the final 12 months suspended to run concurrently with a 12 month sentence for theft.