A FORMER jockey became a "professional shoplifter" to pay off gambling debts and money he owed to loan sharks.

Lewis Purdie struck at stores across North Yorkshire and was a "plague" to communities in the Hambleton and Richmond areas.

The 29-year-old targeted branches of the Co-Op, Tesco and Boots and stole more than £2,800 worth of stock during the two-month crime spree late last year.

Yesterday, he was jailed for 20 months at Teesside Crown Court by a judge who told him: "It is time to put a shot across your bows."

The court heard how Purdie has been offending since 2012, has eight aliases and was a professional horse-rider when his gambling addiction started.

He has been prosecuted in the past for stealing Rolex watches from a jewellers, and accepting £2,500 from jockey Joe Colliver to take the blame for a drunken car crash.

Judge Sean Morris told him that non-custodial sentences have rarely worked for him, and that he had to be locked up.

Revoking a community order imposed last October for similar offences, the judge told Purdie: "You have been before the courts again and again and again and again for professional shoplifting.

"You are a person who travels around North Yorkshire targeting shops, targeting high-value goods.

"You have been in and out of magistrates' court like a revolving door. There has been a fortune spent on you on community orders and the like, and they have not worked."

The court heard that out of 35 rehabilitation activity days, Purdie has just done one, and he has completed just one hour of a 225-hour unpaid work punishment.

Prosecutor Paul Newcombe told Judge Morris that the prolific thief had also missed eight out of nine appointments with the Probation Service.

Alex Bousfield, mitigating, said a friend had paid off the loan sharks, and Purdie will pay him back when he gets work as a scaffolder after his release from prison.

Purdie, of Rousham Gardens, Middlesbrough, admitted ten thefts, and six attempts between September 21 and November 16.

He stole things such as expensive champagne, perfume, vacuum cleaners, alcohol, toiletries, electric toothbrushes and shavers.

Mr Newcombe said shops in Richmond, Catterick Garrison, Leyburn, Bedale, Thirsk and Easingwold were hit.