AN OPPORTUNIST thief took the chance to steal a car when he found it with the keys in the ignition.

Blackburn magistrates heard Stephen Essex was on a late-night foray, trying car doors and looking for items to steal when he came across the VW Golf in Fence.

Essex, 35, of Swinless Street, Burnley, pleaded guilty to theft of a car, four charges of theft from cars and two charges of fraudulent use of bank cards stolen from cars.

He was jailed for 20 weeks after the court heard he was jailed for similar offences last year.

Tracy Yates, prosecuting, said the owner of the car had used social media to ask people to help her trace her vehicle and was told it had been seen in the Danehouse Road area.

After the car was found CCTV from a nearby taxi office showed Essex walking away from it. The other thefts from vehicles were also caught on CCTV and Essex was identified by police.

Mrs Yates said there had been several transaction of the contactless cards and after he had used them Essex put them down a drain.

Mark Williams, defending, said the prison sentence imposed in November followed hot on the heels of one imposed in July for similar offences.

“He was released at the start of this year and for the best part of six months he did very well on post-sentence supervision,” said Mr Williams.

“Drug use got the better of him again and he has started offending again.

“He goes out looking for vehicles that are insecure and none of the offences involved any damage.”

As far as the VW Golf was concerned it was insecure and the keys were in it so he drove back to Burnley in it.

“It is opportunistic and he doesn’t go equipped with any tools,” said Mr Williams.

“If the car isn’t open he moves on.”