A CAREER criminal could be spared yet another prison sentence despite his latest stealing spree.

Prolific burglar Elroy McArthur is facing a lengthy spell behind bars for a series of sneak-in thefts from shops in Darlington.

But a judge wants a probation report to see if there is any alternative to custody for the 40-year-old.

McArthur's barrister told Teesside Crown Court that he virtually always returns to crime within days of being released.

Victoria Lamballe, defending, said he has rarely had the chance of Probation Service help before getting back into trouble.

Miss Lamballe asked Judge Stephen Ashurst to adjourn the sentencing hearing for a report to be prepared, looking at a different way of punishing – and helping – him.

She said: "He is a career burglar with an absolutely appalling for offending.

"Having said that, his last involvement with the Probation Service goes back to 2014, and since then he has been on seven separate occasions and on each of those occasions an immediate custodial sentence has followed.

"He has got to the point where he has been released, spending a matter of weeks in the community without any accommodation in place and without any funding other than £40 in his pocket. He almost immediately returns to reoffending.

"Rather depressingly, he has got to the point where it is easier to be in prison than out of it.

"When he is out of prison, he very much struggles with drug problems. When he is inside, he does fairly well and manages his drug addiction without any difficulty."

McArthur, of Cloverdale, Whinfield, Darlington, appeared in court via a live video-link from Durham Prison after pleading guilty to burglary charges.

Judge Ashurst told him: "The overwhelming likelihood is you will receive a prison sentence for these burglaries, but I am prepared to allow the Probation Service to prepare a report.

"If there is evidence you have turned the corner, the sentencing judge - and it might not be me - will consider it.

"If there is a way of breaking your cycle of offending, the sentencing court will have to take that into consideration, but this is on the strict understanding that there are no promises about what the outcome will be."

McArthur was remanded back into custody until the next hearing on February 18.