A HAPLESS crook was branded 'stupid' by a judge after a bungled bid to steal a digger.

The wheels of the JCB were lifted off the ground by hydraulic legs to stop thieves taking it from a building site.

It was also fitted with a tracking device and an engine immobiliser after a spate of raids, a court heard.

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Yet, Tony Hilton still tried to take the bulky machine after climbing into the cab once the site had been closed.

But he got only as far as pulling the wires from the tracker - and drinking from the driver's bottle of water.

Police found Hilton's DNA on the bottle and arrested him soon afterwards, Teesside Crown Court was told.

The 29-year-old dodged jail after a judge heard despite having 46 crimes on his record, few were for dishonesty.

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, said: "You tried to carry out a professional theft - in an unprofessional manner.

"You were setting out to steal something which was of value . . . you must have thing you had a buyer for it.

"You set about stealing it in a ham-fisted way. You were completely unable to describe the tracker.

"You compounded your stupidity by leaving behind at the scene your DNA - not very professional."

Hilton, of Norton Road, Stockton, was given a suspended prison term after he admitted attempted theft.

David Lamb, mitigating, said: "He has come close to being locked up but the time for that has not yet come - just."

The court heard how plant equipment on the Middlesbrough site was secured after being targeted.

Sharon Elves, prosecuting, said the tracker wiring was repaired - but the JCB was stolen two days later.

Hilton was given a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, with 140 hours' unpaid work.