A SCHOOLGIRL returned home to discover a burglar rifling through her mother's handbag, a court heard yesterday.

On seeing the 15-year-old girl, Adam Lowe, 26, of Glebe Terrace, Cockfield, said to her: "Michael let me in."

Then he ran passed her and out of the front door. He hid credit cards down the back of his trousers.

He was later caught by police and told them the credit cards belonged to his girlfriend, but he was unable to recall her name.

Lowe, who had pleaded guilty, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison by The Recorder of Middlesbrough, Judge Peter Fox QC, at Teesside Crown Court yesterday, after falling foul of the "three strikes and you're out" regulations.

The court heard Lowe was a heroin addict who had returned to crime shortly after he was put on a drugs treatment and testing programme by magistrates.

The three strikes legislation meant Lowe would be sentenced to a minimum of three years in jail.

In mitigation, Jamie Hill said: "He made a full admission in interview, he has pleaded guilty and he hasn't wasted court time. He knows he is going to get at least three years."

However Judge Fox said: "After magistrates gave you another chance, you broke into a family home and there you were stealing what you could get to fund a drugs habit. Then the daughter of the house, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, returned and was confronted by you. It must have been an extremely alarming incident for her.

"You are a danger to the public and you must be stopped in your tracks."