A TEENAGE burglar avoided a spell behind bars after a judge heard that he would be a target for bullies in prison.

Liam Moir's barrister told a court that he was vulnerable and could be led astray by other inmates if he was locked up.

A judge said he sympathised with the 18-year-old and said he would take an "exceptional course" and spare him jail.

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Moir, from Thornaby, near Stockton, was instead given a 12-month suspended sentence with supervision and a curfew.

Judge George Moorhouse, at Teesside Crown Court, told him: "Ordinarily, you would be going to prison for two years."

The court heard how Moir and a pal broke into a neighbour's home while she slept, took her car keys and her vehicle.

Within minutes, the teenager realised what he had done was wrong, alerted his mother and went to the victim's home.

He knocked on the woman's door, woke her, handed over the keys and claimed he had stopped thieves stealing her car.

It later emerged that he had been inside the house while the occupant and her children slept in July last year.

Duncan McReddie, mitigating, told the court that the teenager's life had been blighted by "severe learning difficulties".

"He is clearly easily-led," said Mr McReddie. "In one of Her Majesty's young offender institutions, he will undoubtedly be subject to malign influences.

"Because of the extreme learning difficulties, he will be more vulnerable to those influences, more likely to be compliant with them and shaped by them."

Moir, of Cornfield Road, who has driving, car-taking and burglary offences on a record going back to when he was 12, admitted burglary.

Judge Moorhouse told him: "I have sympathy with you and with the problems you have, but that doesn't justify your actions."