A YOUNG burglar went off the rails during a brief drug-taking phase after being laid off from work during the coronavirus crisis.

Liam Smith committed a sneak break-in, taking £27.50 from the home of a woman he believed would have money in the house.

Durham Crown Court heard that in the preceding weeks Smith took part in four shoplifting trips, taking foodstuffs, alcohol and household goods from shops and stores in the area.

Arising from the spring spree, the 23-year-old defendant, of Newhouse Avenue, Esh Winning, admitted charges of burglary and theft, and asked for a further three cases of shoplifting to be taken into consideration.

Umza Khan, prosecuting, said the burgled house was not far from Smith’s home.

The victim was in her house with her two-year-old child and mother when she heard the dog barking at 6.20pm.

On checking, she saw a male intruder in the kitchen, picking up the £27.50.

He ran off via the back door, pursued by the angry householder, who caught up with him and asked for the money.

Smith made a derogatory comment about the woman’s mother and then told a female companion that she should, “knock her out”, before they left the scene.

The victim was aware they lived locally and told police, who arrested Smith.

He gave no reply to questions other than to admit the burglary, saying he went to that address knowing there would be money present.

Miss Khan said Smith has eight convictions for 18 offences, escalating in seriousness, but with no history for offences of dishonesty.

She gave the court brief details of the shoplifting offences, including an attempt to take a trolley-load of £277 worth of goods from The Range, at Dragonville, with a female accomplice, on May 6.

They were stopped and detained on leaving the store after suspicions were aroused by an off-duty police officer.

Other premises targeted for lower vale thefts in March and April were Home Bargains, at Dragonville, the Co-op, in Esh Winning, and Lidl at Pity Me.

Helen Towers, mitigating, said at the time Smith fell out with his mother, and was in a relationship with an older female drug user.

Miss Towers told the court that until earlier this year there had been a gap in his offending, but he has now made things up with his mother and is in a “supportive” family relationship.

She added that Smith also hopes his job is open to him again, should he receive a suspended sentence, as his employer’s business is “back up and running again”.

But, imposing a 16-month prison sentence, Judge James Adkin said it had to be an immediate jail term for such a targeted case of burglary, leaving the victim unnerved at her home address.