A THIEF convicted of breaking into a heritage railway to steal a haul of metal chairs has been ordered by a court to pay the owners back.

Robert Pearson, 31, has been told to pay more than £1,300 after raiding the Tanfield Railway Station, near Stanley.

The site has been run by a charitable trust for the last 40 years and owns one of the largest collection of steam locomotives in the country.

But police were called to the station last November after a thief drove across fields to gain access.

Officers discovered that a haul of railway chairs had been stripped from the station, worth up to £2,000.

An investigation was launched and volunteers at the railway handed police CCTV that showed the person responsible in a black Nissan Navara.

Just four days later the investigating officers were able to trace the car to Pearson who was then stopped in the vehicle.

He was arrested and later charged with theft and now Pearson, of Rothbury Gardens, Lobley Hill, has admitted the offences at court.

The thief appeared at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court recently where he was fined £300, and made to pay the railway £1,000 in compensation.

Volunteer Ian Cowen, who is the station’s engineering manager, thanked the police following the conviction and said the damage caused by Pearson was “terrible”.

Mr Cowen, 69, said: “It didn’t matter to him what it was that he stole. Whether it was scrap or of high value, nothing was his to take.

“It had a terrible impact and everyone got a bit depressed by it. This guy has just wandered in and taken whatever he likes.

“What I would say is that I am really pleased with the help that the police, particularly PC Michael Neal, have offered us since we were targeted.”

The Tanfield Railway was built in 1725, that was 25 years before the first railway was officially sanctioned by the British government.

The trust who manage the site say that makes it the oldest running railway in the world and that they also boast one of the biggest collections of steam locomotives.

Sergeant Warren Sturrock, of Northumbrian Police, said: “Tanfield Railway is a great piece of local heritage that is much loved by members of the local community.

“It attracts thousands of people every year and it is disgraceful that it should be targeted by petty thieves.

“The majority of those who run and maintain the station are volunteers and they dedicated hours of their own time to keeping it going.

“It is completely unacceptable that it has been targeted in this way.”