FIFTY parked Transit-type vans were targeted at night in a prolonged spree by a serial tool thief, a court heard.

Steven Ball used a skeleton key to open the vans before removing valuable tools to sell to fuel his cocaine addiction, in a period covering 2016 and much of last year.

Durham Crown Court heard that the overall loss to the victims amounted to almost £30,000.

Apart from the 49 stolen from, Ball also took one of the vans, causing £2,000 loss to the owner.

Jonathan Harley, prosecuting, said many of the vans targeted were in Wearside towns and villages, including Shiney Row and Houghton-le-Spring, but others were across mainly north of County Durham, from West Rainton, to Belmont, Durham, South Hetton and Fencehouses.

All but one of the victims were lone tradesmen who lost their valuable tools and were left having to pay to replace them, as well as losing work in the intervening period.

Ball’s plunder of the white van men only ended when he was arrested for unrelated motoring matters.

One of those resulted in him being jailed for 16 months at Teesside Crown Court, in November, for dangerous driving in a police chase in the Billingham and Wynyard areas, on September 29 last year.

The 34-year-old defendant appeared in court for his latest sentencing via video link from HMP Northumberland after previously admitting 11 counts of theft, plus one of dangerous driving for another police chase and associated motoring offences, as well as three separate counts of driving while disqualified.

He also asked for 38 separate theft offences to be taken into consideration.

The court heard that Ball, 34, of Trinity Street, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, now has more than 100 offences on his record, many for similar type offending.

Tony Hawks, mitigating, said Ball was initially arrested in July and it was while on bail that the more serious motoring offences were committed, resulting in him being jailed at Teesside, in November.

Mr Hawks said the background to the latest round of offences was Ball developing, “a serious cocaine addiction”, for which he has sought help from his GP and other agencies to prevent it, “spiralling out of control.”

He added: “What he was doing, in short, was breaking into vans, stealing tools and selling them for seriously lesser amounts than they were worth, to spend the money on cocaine.”

Jailing him for a total of 37 months, Judge Simon Hickey also banned Ball from driving for three years, to start on his release from prison.