A GARAGE worker who stole one of his bosses cars and sold it to an unsuspecting punter avoided being sent immediately to prison.

Lee Horner drove the VW Golf off the forecourt before hiding it on a side street before selling it on.

The 24-year-old then sold it for £3,500 and used the money to pay for his drug habit, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Peter Sabiston, prosecuting, said Horner advertised the car on eBay and was contacted by a potential buyer who paid a deposit into the defendant's bank account.

The buyer was then stopped by police as the car had been reported stolen by the business owner when he realised it was missing from JRK Motors in Middlesbrough.

Mr Sabiston added: "The owner asked Horner if he had seen the car and Horner said he had not. He then checked the CCTV and it was he who could see the accused taking the car.

"The vehicle has been recovered and returned to the owner.

"The buyer was given the bank details of Horner into which he paid the money and he was even given an invoice from JRK Motors."

The purchaser said in a victim impact statement that he feels like he has been the victim of crime and is now £3,500 out of pocket.

The court heard the value of the car was estimated as around £5,000 by the garage owner.

Mr Sabiston said £3,000 had been taken from Horner's bank account which was used to pay for drugs.

Horner, of Thornton Street, Middlesbrough, pleaded guilty to theft and fraud following the offence in May last year.

Robert Mochrie, in mitigation, said: "This defendant has a problem with cannabis misuse and has been candid in saying he does have a problem with that drug and indeed he admits that the monies received from this criminality went exclusively on purchasing drugs."

Judge Deborah Sherwin sentenced Horner to a two year community order, 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days and to perform 40 hours of unpaid work.

She added: "It was a silly thing to take a car from your employer, it was amateur in the extreme. It's hard to see how you could ever have expected to get away with it – it can only be a sign that you really weren't thinking straight at all."