A COUPLE admitted harbouring a runaway schoolboy after he was found in their car eating fish and chips – 20 days after vanishing.
A three-week search ended by chance when a police officer spotted the missing youngster tucking into his meal in the back seat in a seafront car park in Seaton Carew
Gareth Devlin and his girlfriend Elyshia Waite, both 26, were arrested and quizzed by police.
They admitted knowing the youngster was missing and Waite said she intended to take him to the police when they had finished their fish and chips.
Devlin said he had met up with the youngster the day before and wanted to alert police – but the schoolboy had warned him that he would run away from the area if he did.
But the pair were charged and eventually admitted harbouring when they appeared at Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court.
Devlin, of Nottingham Walk, Hartlepool, and Waite, from Thornaby, pleaded guilty to knowingly induce a child to run or stay away when they appeared before the court last month.
The couple were back in the court this week where they were both placed on 12-month community orders with unpaid work.
Guy Prest, prosecuting, said a police investigation led to officers being sent to Seaton Carew on March 1.
Mr Prest said: “It was at a car park on the front where the officer saw a motor vehicle.
“The defendant, Waite, was the driver and Devlin was in the passenger seat and a child was in the back.
“The officer had suspicions that it was the missing child and went up to the car and saw that he was correct and his suspicions were confirmed.”
Nicole Horton, in mitigation for Devlin, said: “My client has the same value system as many who have been through the criminal system, he doesn’t grass.
“He had spoke to the youngster the day before he was arrested and he had urged him to hand himself him.
“The response he got led Mr Devlin to believe that should he press the issue the child would run away.
“Yes, he acted with poor direction but it wasn’t with any malicious intent.”
Paul Crocker, mitigating for Waite, said she wasn’t aware the youngster had spoken to Devlin before March 1.
Mr Crocker said: “Miss Waite could have done little more in helping police.
“She knows she should have taken him to the police earlier but said she was going to do so after they had finished the fish and chips.”
Devlin must complete 80 hours unpaid work and pay £85 costs and a £60 victim surcharge. Waite, of Victor Way, Thornaby, must pay the same costs and carry out 40 hours unpaid work.