A prolific young burglar who has built up a lengthy criminal record at the age of only 23, is starting his longest sentence to date after a six-week spree of offending last autumn.

Jacob Johnson was arrested during a break-in at Bishop Auckland Hospital Staff Social Club, where he and an accomplice had forced entry with a crow bar, in the early hours of November 4.

Durham Crown Court was told the premises, in Escomb Road, were extensively damaged, with metal shutters bent back to allow forced entry to a slot machine.

The court heard the pair had clearly gone equipped as tools, such as a screwdriver, were found on the floor.

The Northern Echo: Jacob Johnson jailed for a total of 55 months at Durham Crown Court

Johnson, who was wearing a balaclava, was later interviewed and remained silent, even when challenged about a spate of other offences in which he was clearly implicated on CCTV footage over the previous few weeks.

Caroline McGurk, prosecuting, said Johnson's latest spate of crime began when he was seen on CCTV climbing over a back garden fence and trying to force a conservatory door, in Prescott Way, Bishop Auckland, in the early hours of September 21.

Miss McGurk said the defendant was then one of three men who carried out a burglary at a cottage in Cockfield, County Durham, in the early hours of October 18.

They entered as trespassers via an insecure conservatory door and took the keys to two vehicles, a Mitsubishi Outlander and a Range Rover, plus 25 sleeves of cigarettes, six bottles of wine, two anorak coats and a bank card.

Both vehicles were then driven away and Johnson, at the wheel of the Range Rover, headed to a petrol filling station in Coundon Gate, where he used the stolen debit card to buy £20 worth of vapes.

He returned to the same filling station half an hour later and drove away without paying for £60 worth of fuel, repeating the act with £50 worth of fuel at another service station, in Binchester, within the hour.

Miss McGurk said the cottage owner, who was asleep with his wife at the property when the break-in took place, spoke of his “devastation” at the effect of the burglary and the “inconvenience” caused by the loss of their two cars, one a mobility vehicle.

Both service stations spoke of the detrimental impact on their businesses caused by such thefts.

Miss McGurk said later on the morning of October 18,  Johnson drove to the home of his ex-partner’s mother, in Bishop Auckland, and shouted abuse and threats, throwing a can of lager at a window, before repeatedly driving the Range Rover into the rear fence, with enough force to knock it down.

The Northern Echo:

Johnson, formerly of Edward Street, Bishop Auckland, admitted two offences of burglary, one of attempted burglary, two each of theft and making off without payment, plus one each of damaging property and threatening behaviour.

Most of the guilty pleas were made at a plea hearing in December, but he only admitted the two car thefts and the cottage burglary on the day of his scheduled trial, on April 9.

Miss McGurk told yesterday's (Wednesday May 1) sentencing hearing that Johnson’s record of 18 convictions for 40 offences, includes 22 cases of theft and similar offending, while he now falls to be dealt with as a "three strikes" burglar.

Mark Styles, in mitigation for Johnson, said: “Despite his relative youth, he’s starting to build up quite a significant criminal record.

“He’s had a significant problem with drug abuse for some time, which is linked to depression, and he has an ADHD diagnosis from 14 years ago.

“It meant he had difficulties with his education, and he struggled through childhood and his formative years.”

Mr Styles said there was some element of planning relating to the burglaries of the cottage and the hospital staff social club.

But he said the defendant has told him he wants to get into regular employment upon his eventual release from prison.

He added: “He’s still only in his early 20s and rehabilitation is still possible in his case.”

Recorder Andrew Smith told Johnson: “You’re 23 and you are accumulating a lengthy and unattractive criminal record.

“Sooner or later you are going to have to take control of where your life is going.

“It’s far too early to take the view that you are going to be rehabilitated.

“You can’t do anything about your ADHD, but it’s you who chooses to misuse drugs.

“That is, perhaps, more relevant as to why you are committing offences.”

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Recorder Smith imposed a 43-month sentence for the cottage burglary and added a consecutive 12-month term for all of the other offending.

That made a total sentence of 55 months, or four years and seven months, of which the defendant will have to serve up to half before being released on licence.

Recorder Smith told Johnson: “I hope you can come out with a clean slate to start your rehabilitation.”