A MAN who stole to eat after his benefits were stopped has been jailed.

Ian Mulholland admitted stealing three packets of casserole steak from Sainsbury's when he appeared at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates Court .

The court heard he stole the meat to eat after changes to his benefits left him hungry.

The 43-year-old drug user, who faces amputation of his legs, apparently spent nine weeks without money when attempting to change benefits to reflect his disability.

He missed out on payments after failing to attend appointments.

Ben Pegman, mitigating, said Mulholland was unable to afford food and, because of his ulcerated legs, was unable to get to the local foodbank.

He added that the recent offending was as a result of his situation.

“He is free of heroin and in receipt of methadone but this is not offending to top that up but offending to eat.”

Mulholland, of Borough Road, Darlington, pleaded guilty to stealing the food, worth £12.60, and was sentenced to six weeks in prison.

A suspended prison sentence imposed for a previous offence was also activated, meaning he must spend 14 weeks behind bars.

Colin Bradshaw, the manager of a foodbank operated by Darlington’s Salvation Army, said cases of people stealing to eat were increasing as a result of benefit reform and sanctions.

Major Bradshaw is now calling for the abolishment of benefit sanctioning which sees claimants’ benefits reduced or stopped entirely if they are suspected of non-compliance.

Predicting a Dickensian future, he said: “Sanctioning is not only forcing people into greater poverty, it is forcing people to take desperate action such as stealing food.

“Around 70 per cent of the 50 to 58 people we help at our Friday night emergency foodbank have been sanctioned – many of them over 50 years of age and all of them desperate."