A MAN accused of being part of an armed gang which stole a valuable French Bulldog puppy told a jury yesterday that he was smoking cannabis in a house nearby at the time of the raid.

Teesside Crown Court heard that three masked burglars, armed with a machete, smashed their way with a concrete boulder into a family's home in Hundens Lane, Darlington, before stealing a ten-week old bulldog puppy on Halloween last year.

Aiden Blareau's DNA – a one-in-a-billion match – was found on a vampire mask dropped by the gang during the raid.

The family involved, including two young children, were forced to flee the house as the burglars shattered the patio door and entered the back of their home, at about 8.40pm on Halloween.

The 25-year-old, who denies aggravated burglary, said on oath yesterday that he had tried a mask on in a friend's jeep a few days before the raid.

However, when pressed on who the friend was, he said he didn't want to name him for fear of violent repercussions.

Mr Blareau, of Elvet Place, Darlington, told the court he had been staying with his girlfriend's sister on Hundens Lane for around a week. He initially said he had been there all day and night.

In his evidence, he said he arrived there at about 5pm and said his girlfriend Jade Matthews, and her sister Amber, had gone to bed at about 8.40pm after smoking cannabis with him.

He said he went to Middlesbrough with a friend at about 9.30pm to buy some more cannabis before returning to Amber's house.

Rebecca Brown, prosecuting, asked him why he had not told the police all this when he was interviewed, instead of saying 'no comment' to all their questions.

She said: "The reason you didn't answer is because you needed time to think of an excuse.

"You wanted your answers to this jury to fit nicely with the evidence, didn't you?"

She then pushed him for the name of the friend who took him to Middlesbrough, but he said he did not want to give the name.

The bulldog puppy, which was microchipped, was later recovered in Scotland following an appeal by her owner Joanne Leslie.

The trial continues.