A serial thief and burglar heaped misery on officials of sports and social clubs across neighbouring communities in a series of break-ins and attempts earlier this year.

Robert Alan Coles and an unknown associate embarked on the burglary campaign, damaging shutters, windows, doors and alarms at a number of premises in a bid to plunder gaming and other machines for cash to help meet a cocaine habit.

Durham Crown Court heard that between March 9 and May 9 this year, Coles and his accomplice struck at Peterlee and Horden Rugby Club, Horden Conservative Club, Peterlee Labour Club and Horden Legion Club.

Elizabeth Muir, prosecuting, said an official of the rugby club, alerted to the burglary attempt by an alarm-monitoring company, found the premises in Eden Lane without power in the early hours of March 9.

Read more: Man admits burglary attempts at Horden and Peterlee clubs earlier this year

He found windows smashed and roller shutters pulled off their mountings, lying on the ground.

Examination of cctv showed the defendant and another man using shovels to remove the roller shutters, while two alarms were ripped off and left by a bin, amid overall damage of £1,500.

A forensic link came from a dna lift on a plastic bag found in the bin and clothing recovered from the defendant’s home, which matched those worn by the offender.

The club, itself, said it had spent thousands of pounds on security to deter criminals and more funds would have to be raised to pay for repairs.

Miss Muir said the Conservative Club was entered via a window above fire doors and a chain was cut holding the doors together, in the early hours of April 28.

A ticket machine was forced with between £250 and £300 coins removed, while a door was damaged to allow access to another gaming machine.

Damage caused at the premises was put at £1,656, but a footwear lift linked the defendant to the crime.

Miss Muir said the stewardess was fearful after the incident as she was often the person first opening and last locking the club.

Read more: Man charged with series of burglaries in Horden

An official at Peterlee Labour Club attended the Manor Way premises in the early hours of May 4 to find police in attendance after iron bars on the windows and beading holding glass in place were removed.

The pool room was entered, with four panels smashed costing £250 to repair and about £400 in coins were taken from a Lotto machine.

A footwear impression at the scene again provided a link to the defendant.

An attempt was also made to break into Horden Legion Club where two masked males climbed over the wall of a smoking area, altering the angle of two cctv cameras, early on May 9.

A further footwear impression and clothing comparison again linked the defendant to the crime.

Coles was also found to be in possession of the registration plates and a torch, plus a battery from a car taken after its keys were removed during a house burglary, again in early May.

The 46-year-old defendant, of Argent Street, Easington Colliery, admitted two burglaries and attempted burglaries each, plus handling stolen goods, pleas tendered a week before a scheduled trial.

Miss Muir told the court heard he has made 37 court appearances for 167 past offences, 45 for theft and five for previous non-dwelling burglaries.

Tony Davis, in mitigation, said the defendant has come to realise that at his age he needs to make life style changes.

“I acknowledge this represents another spate in his offending history, which has been very poor in the past.”

But Mr Davis said there had been a slowing down in the defendant's offending prior to the spree earlier this year, which he said wasdriven by his lack of finance in the outside world, away from prison.

Judge Jo Kidd told him: “For a period of two months together with others you took part in planned, targeted, non-dwelling burglaries of premises in your general locality which are, essentially, charitable institutions that set out to enhance the welfare of the community.

“They are afflicted by the repeated targeting of offences of dishonesty against them.

“For that reason there’s a significant community impact caused by offences of this nature.”

Imposing a 25-month prison sentence, Judge Kidd said she was satisfied Coles’ motivation was his drug habit, in this case, his misuse of cocaine.

Read next:

               Burglar armed with screwdriver breaks into Peterlee home

               County Durham man returned home to discover burglary

               Durham drug user breached court order by touting door-to-door for work

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