A THIEF who turned to drugs after breaking up with his girlfriend stole a charity cash box to fund his habit, a court heard.

Neale John Fenwick appeared at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates' Court yesterday after unscrewing the 3ft charity collection box from a shopping centre on October 17 this year.

Mohamed Awan, prosecuting, said the defendant entered the shopping centre shortly after it opened at 6am, unsecured the charity box and emptied it of around £200 cash outside of a shop.

Fenwick, of Church Street, Seaham, pleaded guilty to one charge of theft but disputed the amount taken, he claimed the cash box contained £83.76. He has 35 previous convictions for 103 offences including theft and burglary.

The Northern Echo: Neale John Fenwick, 35, pictured outside courtNeale John Fenwick, 35, pictured outside court

Jaxon Taylor, mitigating, said Fenwick had previously battled with a drug addiction but had gotten himself clean for 11 months.

He added: "He got himself back into work as a welder and into a relationship, they set up home and unfortunately she cheated on him.

"He accepts that he found the break up difficult and has started using tablets and alcohol but has not returned to heroin use."

A report from probation said Fenwick, 35, was "motivated by money" to buy drugs.

He was given an 18 month community order with 15 rehabilitation activity days and must pay £200 compensation.