A BUNGLING burglar was caught red handed as he attempted to take his ill-gotten gains home in a stolen wheelbarrow.

Robert Laver was spotted by a police officer wheeling the cooker and hob he had just stolen after breaking into a new build house in Middlesbrough.

The 39-year-old also stole the wheelbarrow, drill and expanding foam gun from the Story Homes building site on Jack Simon Way, Acklam.

Jenny Haigh, prosecuting, told Teesside Crown Court that Laver was facing a lengthy custodial sentence as he qualified as a third-strike burglar following convictions in 2001, 04 and 07.

She said: "Early in the morning, about 3.05am, the police officer saw the defendant on Stainton Way, Hemlington, he was pushing a wheelbarrow with a brand new cooker and hob and he also had a rucksack with a drill, expanding foam, spanners and a wrench.

"A house on Story Homes estate on Jack Simon Way had been broken into. The house, which was ready to be moved into, had been decorated and the new cooker and hob had been fitted ready for the new owners to move in the next week.

"The defendant was arrested and interviewed, he denied being responsible for the break-in and said he had found the wheelbarrow while he was out looking for scrap and just took it."

Laver, of Ellis Gardens, Hemlington, Middlesbrough, pleaded guilty to burglary and theft in connection with the offences committed in the early hours of January 22.

In mitigation, John Nixon, said the father-of-five had slipped back into drug abuse, adding that his children had missed him while he was on remand.

"To my surprise, when he came into court he pleaded guilty," he added. "He saw it as stealing from a business and had no idea that the property had been purchased and somebody was ready to move in.

"It came as a great shock to him that he would be facing the longer sentence."

The court heard that the defendant had a lengthy previous record including burglary, fraud and theft.

Judge Stephen Ashurst sentenced Laver to 876 days in custody, a little over 29 months, for the burglary and passed a nine month concurrent sentence for the theft charge.

He said: "It has been some time since you were at court for burglary 20001, 04 and 07, but you received quite a substantial sentence for the last offences.

"You pleaded not guilty at magistrates court but you have accepted the advice of your representative and pleaded guilty, but it still qualifies as a domestic burglary.

"You have developed a crack cocaine habit over the few years and I cannot imagine the children have not been affected by a father taking cocaine in the way that you have."