Purse thief in hot water

PAUL Birch swam across the Fitzroy River in his underpants to escape from Rockhampton police.

It was just after midnight on February 5 and he had just stolen a woman's purse at the Oxford Hotel and was also being pursued by a hotel customer and bar manager.

Birch, 22, unemployed, pleaded guilty in the Mackay Magistrate's Court yesterday to eight charges including stealing, obstructing police and assaulting police.

He had been drinking in an outdoor beer area at the Oxford Hotel and tried to chat up two women who were sitting nearby but they rejected his advances.

When one of them got up at 11.45pm to visit the bathroom he took her purse which contained $40 in cash, a camera, keys and other items such as credit cards, prosecutor Sergeant Cindy Searle said.

The bar manager and a customer chased him down towards the riverbank and he was spotted hiding under the timber boardwalk.

He swam about 70 metres across the river then turned around and swam back.

He was standing in shallow water and he took off his belt and jeans, stripping down to his underpants, and then he swam off again.

At 12.45am police received information from a resident on the northern side of the river saying they heard someone yelling for help.

Birch was arrested and police noticed he had a cut to his foot but he refused ambulance treatment.

Duty solicitor Nikki King, of Legal Aid Queensland, said Birch had just completed two months of a residential rehabilitation course from alcohol and drug dependency in Mackay and was looking to change his life around.

Ms King said Birch nearly drowned about three-quarters of the way across the river.

Birch was placed on probation for two years.

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