A FORMER habitual burglar returned to his old ways to help pay off a drug debt, a court heard.

Colin Ayre was today (Friday February 7) jailed for two years after admitting what was his twentieth offence of burglary, dating back over 22 years.

But Durham Crown Court heard that as virtually all his other offences pre-dated the “three-strikes” legislation, introduced to target persistent burglars at the end of November in 1999, he was not subject to a mandatory three-year sentence.

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Jonathan Walker, prosecuting, said Ayre’s return to burglary took place alongside an unknown accomplice, on November 22, last year, when valuables worth a total of £2,300 were taken from a house in Seaton Village, Seaham, County Durham.

Mr Walker said entry appeared to have been gained after they broke a conservatory window.

“The house was not occupied and a thorough search was undertaken.

“Items of jewellery and watches were taken and have never been recovered.”

A forensic test on a bloodstain found on the broken window led to a DNA match with Ayre.

Mr Walker said that although the householder was not at home at the time, he was, “distressed and angry”, at the break-in, which left his son too frightened to sleep alone in his bedroom at night.

Thirty-four-year-old Ayre, of Kirklea Road, Houghton-le-Spring, admitted a charge of burglary at a hearing at the court on Christmas Eve, which resulted in him spending the festive period behind bars, remanded in custody.

The court heard he his 19 previous burglary convictions date from his early teenage years, in April, 1991.

Chris Morrison, mitigating, told the court his client was “very apologetic” for the distress caused to the family concerned.

Mr Morrison said Ayre suffered a long-standing “pernicious addiction” to drugs, although he has managed to go clean from last summer.

“But, he was invited to assist in this offence by a man who he still owed £250 for earlier supplies,” added Mr Morrison.

Jailing him, Recorder Taryn Turner told Ayre: “You have no respect for other people and their property, and you’ve shown no respect for the law over a long period of offending.

“I’m told you’re now a devoted family man, so you, if anyone, should understand the distress you caused the householder and his child.”

She ordered Ayre to also pay £100 statutory surcharge.