A FORMER drug addict narrowly avoided jail yesterday despite being convicted of theft, drink-driving, benefit fraud and driving while disqualified.

When he appeared before South Durham magistrates in Darlington yesterday Robert James Clark, of Cottingham Drive, Darlington, pleaded guilty to stealing meat from Morrisons supermarket, taking a mobility car without the owner's consent, and two driving offences.

He also admitted falsely signing a benefit form and claiming more than £100 in jobseekers' allowance while he was working as a steel erector.

The 28-year-old was in Morrison's, in Neasham Road, Darlington, last year when a security guard spotted him hiding meat down his trousers and attempting to leave the store without paying.

The court heard that earlier this year, a disabled person's mobility car was stolen from outside the Archdeacon pub in Cockerton, and later found crashed into some railings.

Clark, who was disqualified from driving, was discovered by police in a taxi office near the crash scene and, when tested, it was discovered he was over the legal drink-drive limit.

The court heard that Clark was a former drug addict who had overcome his addiction and settled down with a partner.

He denied stealing the car from the pub but said he took the car knowing it was stolen. He admitted the other offences.

Magistrates said he had narrowly avoided a custodial sentence and disqualified him from driving for an extra three years, gave him a 180-hour community punishment order, a 12-month suspended sentence, and ordered him to pay £75 compensation, £100 costs to the benefit office and £55 prosecution costs.