Join Date: May 2001
Location: Somewhere over the rainbow
*UPDATE* Jailed golf ball retriever wins appeal
London: A man who was jailed for six months for retrieving lost balls from golf course lakes had his prison sentence quashed today, but a judge told him to avoid further clandestine diving expeditions.
Police caught John Collinson, 36, in the early hours of the morning, equipped with a rubber diving suit, in August at Whetstone Golf Course in Leicester, central England.
He and colleague Terry Rostron, 24, had fished 1,158 balls from Lily Pond - the bane of hundreds of golfers playing the difficult par 3 fifth hole.
The severity of the sentence against Collinson, imposed last month, had provoked a public outcry, made the father of two a cause celebre of daytime TV and prompted lawmakers, celebrities and the British media to campaign for his release.
At London's Court of Appeal today, two judges lifted the jail term and gave him a two-year conditional discharge, which means he must stay out of trouble for two years.
The judges agreed with Collinson's lawyer that the sentence was "disproportionate" to the offence and a noncustodial sentence was more appropriate.
But Lord Justice Mark Potter warned that the court did not regard the offences as "trivial".
He said the decision to impose a conditional discharge was not a "let-off" and should be seen as a deterrent to further "clandestine" nighttime diving expeditions.
Collinson was present in the dock as the two justices announced their decision. He left court with representatives of a national newspaper and declined to comment to other reporters. That means he may be paid for exclusive stories about him.
He will now appeal his conviction for theft, too.
For 10 years Collinson made a modest living diving for lost golf balls and selling them for 15 pence each. He made roughly STG15,000 ($A39,867) a year collecting balls at courses throughout the country.
He claimed in his defence that they didn't belong to anyone. He told a jury at Leicester Crown Court he even filled out tax returns on his earnings.
But last month Judge Richard Bray, jailing him for six months, said: "It is obvious you show no remorse and no intention of quitting."
Rostron, also found guilty of theft, was given a conditional discharge, too.
Lindsay Hoyle, a governing Labour Party lawmaker who represents Collinson's home town of Chorley, northern England, had raised the case in the House of Commons and urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to look into it.
The diver's girlfriend, Annette Jolly, had appeared on daytime television and given countless newspaper interviews pleading for his release.
Professional golfer Colin Montgomerie, defending Collinson, had been quoted in The Daily Mail newspaper as saying balls lost in lakes were "finders keepers".
You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, 'Parking Fine.'So that was nice.