A CAREER criminal who was once branded “a public menace” broke into a charity which helps men struggling with addiction and crisis.

Prolific burglar Ashley Simpson broke into the Moses Project in Stockton on New Year's Day and stole almost £3,000 worth of belongings.

The 32-year-old and an accomplice also caused more than £1,500 damage as they carried out a “systematic search” of the building twice in the early hours.

Prosecutor Harry Hadfield told Teesside Crown Court the pair took bin bags out of the bins and filled them with goods including four lap-tops, four mobile phones used by outreach workers, medication and donated toiletries.

Judge Stephen Ashurst told Simpson: "It's despicable that a charity should be attacked like this.

"Its aim is to help people just like you who have long-term problems.

"I quite understand... how numb the staff and volunteers felt when they turned up on New Year's Day to find there had been a very serious burglary.

"That was obviously something that had a dreadful impact on the charity, and made some of the members of the charity wonder why they bothered.

"But it may well be that they continue to do the good work to try to help people in your position."

Simpson struck a week after the charity fed more than 150 vulnerable, elderly and lonely men on Christmas Day.

Judge Ashurst said: "You were there with another person. You'd obviously gone equipped and your faces or heads had been covered.

"You had the gall to return later to carry on with the burglary, no doubt thinking that no-one would be about in the early hours of New Year's Day."

Simpson, of Hartington Road, Stockton, admitted the burglary, as well as the theft of £107 worth of alcohol and gift sets from the town’s Asda on December 12 last year.

He had a long record and started burgling when he was a teenager. He was jailed for four years for burglary in 2009, four-and-a-half years in 2011.

He was jailed for three years and eight months for burglary in October 2016 and branded a public menace after he stole a mum's wedding ring and children's money boxes from a family home.

Judge Ashurst said Simpson was released in the summer of last year, adding: "And your drug addiction problem simply continued.

"It appears that the courts have on occasions given you the chance to try and do something about your addiction.

"But plainly you are either resistant to that or completely incapable of living without reliance upon controlled drugs.

“You've got a really dreadful record for burglary.

"It appears that you spent most of your teenage years and most of your 20s in prison.

"You received a variety of sentences – detention and training orders, young offenders' institution and adult prison.

"There's no alternative but to pass yet another custodial sentence.

"There will, I hope, come a time when you realise that you've got another way open to you.

"And it's thanks to people like those who are in the Moses Project that some ultimately are helped and deterred from offending.

"It is to be hoped that you will learn from this very serious error on this occasion, and fare better when you are released from this sentence."

Simpson, who was jailed for 18 months, offered to pay compensation, but the judge said this was "a triumph of optimism over experience" as Simpson had no income.

In an impact statement, charity chairman Brian Jones told how Simpson had used the services in the past and he used to drop off food for the burglar and his housemates.

He said: “The whole episode has left the project feeling extremely vulnerable and shocked. The items were vital for the staff to do their work.”

Shaun Dryden, mitigating, said: “Mr Simpson is very keen for me to inform the court as far as he is concerned, this was not a deliberate targeting of the Moses Project.

“He had taken tablets and was intoxicated, and had gone in looking for laptops.

“This is a man who has had a serious and long-standing drug problem, which he has had since he was 15.

“He asks me to apologise to the Moses Project. He was disgusted with himself.”