A MASKED gang armed with a machete smashed their way into a family's home while the children were getting ready for bed and stole their bulldog puppy, a court was told yesterday.

DNA from a Dracula mask believed to have been inadvertently dropped by the gang in the Halloween raid was matched to an Aiden Blareau, prosecutor Rebecca Brown told a jury at Teesside Crown Court.

Mr Blareau, 25, of Elvet Place, Darlington, denies one charge of aggravated burglary.

Victim Joanne Leslie told how she and her partner were in her living room and her children, aged five and seven, were getting ready for bed when she heard a huge crash at the back of the Darlington house, closely followed by another.

A gang of three people wearing masks had smashed their way through the back patio doors with a concrete boulder – and the family fled out of the front, where they were quickly locked out of their own home by the thieves.

Miss Leslie said she had seen a short man, no more than 5ft3ins, at her door holding a 'large knife' in front of his face, before she was locked out.

She also said she heard him say: "Where are the other f****** dogs?"

The thieves searched the house, looking for more valuable puppies from a litter Miss Leslie's adult dog had recently had, but all but one of the pups had been sold and rehomed just days earlier.

She said that while standing outside: "I could hear my dogs crying and I have never, ever heard them cry."

When she returned to the house she said: "My older dog was just stood staring at me. I ran into the kitchen and my puppy had gone."

Neighbours raised the alarm during the burglary but within five minutes the gang had gone, taking the family's remaining £2,000 French Bulldog puppy, named Violet, with them.

They emptied out one of Miss Leslie's handbags and discarded the contents to carry the pup, the court was told.

After the burglary Miss Leslie managed to track down and retrieve Violet, who was microchipped, from a woman in Scotland who had purchased her having no idea she was stolen.

She told the court that she found a mask, which looked like a vampire mask, on the kitchen floor amid the broken glass after the burglary.

It did not belong to her children, who had gone out trick or treating earlier in the evening dressed as a swamp zombie and a werewolf, she said, giving evidence via videolink.

Miss Brown said: "The prosecution say that mask was used by one of the people involved in the burglary.

"Swabs were taken from around the mouth area and the DNA profile matched the defendant."

Mr Blareau told police he had been with his girlfriend all day and night, she said. The trial continues.