A BURGLAR hit a homeowner in the face after being apprehended breaking into a garden shed with a screwdriver in a bid to raise money to pay his rent.

Simon Kernan, 39, of Anns Terrace, Darlington, was visiting his sister in Barnard Castle when he decided to force entry to a garden shed in the town, magistrates in Newton Aycliffe were told.

He was given a suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to burglary with intent to steal, and assault by beating.

Emma Barker, prosecuting, told the court: "He broke in and moved a bike out of the shed.

"The owner has been alerted that someone was breaking into his shed.

"He has run out of the house, opened the door and saw a figure, and tried to stop him making off.

"In the process of trying to detain the defendant the defendant has struck the victim in the face in order to escape."

She said Kernan had gone 'equipped for burglary'.

A statement from the victim said having to apprehend a burglar in the middle of the night was a 'very nerve-wracking experience' which had caused him a great deal of distress.

He said: "I want the male to be punished and I am not willing to take part in restorative justice."

The victim and his wife also asked for a restraining order banning Kernan from going near their house after he reportedly said: "I know where you live."

The court was told he had 28 convictions for 81 offences and was last before the court in February for a shoplifting matter.

Mitigating, Stephen Andrews said: "The motivation for the burglary seems to have been desperation, in as far as his financial circumstances are concerned."

He said Kernan lived with his teenage daughter and was paying rent of about £600 a month. Last month, when the burglary took place, he was £250 short of the rental payment.

"In desperation he has made the decision, having got a screwdriver, used it to get into the shed in an attempt to find a bicycle to sell, so he could pay his landlord and prevent he and his teenage daughter being evicted.

"Mr Kernan himself was assaulted, he was punched several times, but he accepts that as he said he would have done the same thing himself."

Magistrates said they had considered committing the case for sentencing at Crown Court, which could have seen Kernan get up to three years in prison.

However after hearing about his chronic illnesses magistrates gave him an 18-week prison sentence, suspended for 18 months.

They warned him if he continued to offend it would be 'inevitable' he would end up in prison.

He was also ordered to pay £50 compensation.

A restraining order banning him from entering Barnard Castle was also imposed.