Violent drug-dealer caught hiding in nettles after assault at Horsham house

Ben Atkinson and PD Vinnie. Photos: Sussex Police
Ben Atkinson and PD Vinnie. Photos: Sussex Police

A violent drug-dealer was tracked down by a police dog following reports of an assault and criminal damage at a house in Horsham.

Sussex Police say Ben Atkinson, who was found hiding in nettles with almost £5,000 in cash, has been jailed for numerous offences.

Police searched for Atkinson following reports of an assault and criminal damage at a house in Churchill Way, Horsham, about 3.50pm on July 3.

A police statement says that officers arrived and discovered extensive damage had been caused at the property, and the suspect had made off in a vehicle which did not belong to him.

House-to-house enquiries were made, and neighbours were asked to call 999 if he returned.

Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, police detected the vehicle had been driven in the area, before being abandoned in nearby Bashurst Hill, Itchingfield.

An extensive search of the area was carried out but there was no trace of the suspect.

Later, around 9pm, police were called after Atkinson returned to the address where the assault and damage occurred. On seeing officers arrive, he ran towards woodland behind the house.

Local officers contained the area while PC Paul House, of the Surrey and Sussex Dog Unit, deployed PD Vinnie – a German Shepherd general purpose dog.

Within minutes PD Vinnie had found a black rucksack containing various drugs and drug paraphernalia, and moments later – after tracking through a gully and dense overgrowth – he barked to indicate the suspect was present.

Atkinson emerged from the nettles, and was arrested and taken into custody.

He was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, criminal damage, taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent and driving while disqualified, and pleaded guilty at Crawley Magistrates’ Court on July 5.

He was sentenced to a total of 26 weeks’ imprisonment, given a restraining order to last until further notice, and required to pay a £115 victim surcharge.

Atkinson, 30, unemployed and of no fixed address, was further charged with possession with intent to supply Class A drugs (cocaine) and possession with intent to supply Class B drugs (cannabis), which he originally denied.

The case went to trial at Lewes Crown Court on November 15, where he changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to a total of four years’ imprisonment. He was also required to pay a £170 victim surcharge.

The drugs and drug paraphernalia were destroyed, and the cash voluntarily surrendered under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Police Constable Dale Marklew, of Crawley Investigations, said: “On the afternoon of 3 July, Atkinson caused an extensive amount of damage at a house in Horsham – this included broken windows, furniture and even children’s toys. He also assaulted a woman who is known to him, in the presence of children, and thankfully she was not seriously hurt.

“We were determined to catch up with him and we’re thankful to the public for helping us to locate him. He was clearly intent on evading capture – running away from police – and only gave himself up when faced with a police dog.

“I’d also like to thank all the officers involved in this investigation. Together, we have helped to bring a cowardly criminal to justice and removed a substantial quantity of drugs from the streets of Sussex.”