'Prison might have been easier' for career burglar who smashed his way into Middlesbrough Aldi

Stephen Swinnerton appeared at Teesside Crown Court
Stephen Swinnerton appeared at Teesside Crown Court -Credit:Teesside Live

An Aldi meat thief has been put under intensive supervision rather than being sent to jail to help him crack his drug addiction.

Stephen Swinnerton, 48, was back in court after he smashed his way into Aldi on Middlesbrough's Marton Road and headed straight for the meat counter. Police arrived after a security monitoring system alerted them, but Swinnerton had left the shop by a rear fire door, just after 11pm on September 26, last year.

He cut himself when smashing the store's windows to get in and blood found in the shop, was matched to him. Swinnerton was arrested in January but refused to answer police questions. He initially pleaded not guilty to the burglary and was set to face a trial.

He changed his mind at the last minute and pleaded guilty. He has 40 previous convictions for 98 offences, which include 36 burglaries.

On Friday, at Teesside Crown Court, Judge Chris Smith spoke to Swinnerton's solicitor Michele Turner stating: " He's always stealing - now the meat counter - helping himself to things he can sell. I daresay you're going to tell me this is the consequence of his dependence on illegal drugs.

"He's brought a bag. It's bigger than he is. You're going to ask me to pass a community order, because that would help him with his problems." "Yes," replied Ms Turner.

Judge Smith continued: "My worry is that this defendant doesn't always make sensible decisions. He was arrested with his blood found at the scene, he goes no comment and elects for a jury trial. What's all that about?"

Ms Turner said that her client is no longer homeless, has a job and is "ready for that next step that would be afforded by an order" - to tackle his crack cocaine addiction.

"Come forward. Put your your bag down," the judge told Swinnerton. "I've got a choice, haven't I? Off to Durham you can go - for four months or so. It's easy, you've done it before. I'm going to give you a chance, but it's not going to be an easy one."

The judge put Swinnerton, of Lytton Court in Middlesbrough, under intensive supervision to help him break his cycle of addiction and repeat offending. He was handed an eight-month prison term, suspended for two-years. He must attend 30-rehabilitation days with the probation service; and carry out 200-hours of unpaid work.

Swinnerton will wear an electronic tag and be trail monitored. He was put under curfew, from 7pm to 7am, for one year. He will be subject to random drug testing and must return to court every month, to check if he is attending his appointments.

"If you don't stick to these conditions," Judge Smith said, "you'll have to bring that bag again. Ms Turner ain't going to save you. The unpaid work - if you're busy then you're not smashing windows and stealing.

"You are drinking in the last chance saloon. When you see your mates down the pub this weekend and they say 'how come you didn't go to prison?' You say, 'I've got this new tough order, 'prison might have been easier'."