A CAREER criminal walked free from court after his latest crime spree when a judge told him: "Prison won't do you any good."

Drug-user Gary Hopwood, 30, faced jail for three shop thefts in Darlington town centre and handling a batch of stolen watches.

Hopwood already had a record stretching to 90 offences - mostly for dishonesty, prosecutor Harry Hadfield told Teesside Crown Court.

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Passing a community order, Judge George Moorhouse told him: "You should be going to prison, but that's not gong to help you."

Hopwood, of Dickinson Street, Darlington, was also ordered to undergo supervision and take part in a drug treatment programme.

The judge told him he had an "appalling" record, and added: "You just don't learn your lesson."

The court heard how Hopwood was caught shoplifting three times in the space of three weeks in October and November last year.

He snatched a tracksuit top from the British Heart Foundation charity shop, and twice struck at a chemists, taking a gift set and a watch.

A week later, he was stopped by police and had six stolen watches, Mr Hadfield said.

The court heard that Hopwood had also twice breached a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) by not telling police he had moved address.

The order was imposed by magistrates in 2009 after the heroin addict was convicted of indecent assault on a female four years earlier.

Mr Hadfield said Hopwood "enthusiastically comes to court and uses the criminal justice system".

Rachel Dyson, mitigating, said there was nothing sinister about him breaching the SOPO - he was just hopelessly disorganised.

"He struggles to keep appointments and struggles with all that side of life that, perhaps, the man in the street might have no difficulty with," said Miss Dyson.

"That's not because he is a highly-intelligent, manipulative man. He doesn't have the wherewithal to try to manipulate situations to his own benefit.

"The one outstanding problem for him is his heroin addiction. That's what tends to be behind the majority of his offending."