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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 October, 2004, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
'Idiot' car thief avoids prison
A thief who stole cars worth more than 550,000 has avoided a jail term.

Ashley Thomas, 26, of White Tree Road, Henleaze, Bristol, told police he was "addicted to stealing". His barrister described him as a "young idiot".

Bristol Crown Court heard how cars were taken from Reading, Exeter, Bath, Gloucester and Yeovil between May 2003 and July 2004.

Judge Carol Hagen warned Thomas that he would be jailed if he offended again within the next six months.

He was a car dealer's worst nightmare as he would switch keys very efficiently and go back and steal motor cars
Detective Sergeant Dave Trotter

Thomas pleaded guilty to five counts of theft, one of driving while disqualified and another 19 offences were taken into consideration.

Judge Hagen warned Thomas that if he reoffended in the next six months he would be jailed and the offences would attract a minimum sentence of four years.

She said: "The community rehabilitation order seems to offer the best chance of stopping you from offending."

The cars were usually dumped, although eight remain missing, including a 50,000 BMW.

Baby daughter

Thomas' barrister, Stephen Mooney, said he had a desire to be seen favourably in the eyes of others by driving high value cars.

Mr Mooney said this "self validation" from stealing was because of a combination of cocaine, gambling and the excitement gained taking high value cars.

He claimed Thomas acknowledged that what he did was "unacceptable" and had changed since the birth of his daughter three months ago.

Outside court, Thomas said: "Thank you Carol Hagen. I'm never going to do it again I can't explain why I did it."

Detective Sergeant Dave Trotter, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: "He was a car dealer's worst nightmare as he would switch keys very efficiently and go back and steal motor cars."

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