SMASH and grab raiders helped themselves to thousands of pounds worth of stock and cash after crudely forcing their way into a town centre newsagents’ shop.

A four-strong gang armed with a shovel and a large bag smashed their way into Wilson’s News, in Front Street, Chester-le-Street, in a dawn raid, on March 25.

Durham Crown Court heard that they took a large quantity of cigarettes, National Lottery scratch cards and two till drawers, each containing £150 in float.

Jennifer Haigh, prosecuting, said £500 of stolen tobacco, the scratch cards and float were not recovered, while the security door and an inner door cost £1,000 and £200 to replace, respectively.

Total losses and repair costs amounted to £7,930 which one shop worker stated represented a large figure for a small business perspective, with tight margins.

The only one of the quartet involved in the raid to be brought before the court was 33-year-old Rocky Kyle Brennan, of Fifth Avenue, in Chester-le-Street, who admitted burglary.

The court was told he has 15 convictions for 43 offences.

But, Lewis Kerr, for Brennan, said he began early as a drug user and steadily increased his habit, coinciding with frequent offending.

Since reducing his drug use through a methadone programme there was a large gap in his offending from 2014 until this offence, while there have been “significant improvements” in his life more recently, as he has formed a stable new relationship, found work as a labourer and reduced his previous heavy use of drugs.

Judge Jonathan Carroll told Brennan he has, “a dreadful record” for burglary and other offences of dishonesty.

But he noted the improvements he has made and said it was in the public interest to continue to control his drug habit.

He passed a 24-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, during which time he must perform 180 hours’ unpaid work, undergo a 12-month drug rehabilitation requirement and observe a four-month 7pm to 7am home curfew, plus pay £750 compensation.