AN ex-soldier who helped himself to a car belonging to the father of his girlfriend's son was using it as a "bargaining tool" in a custody battle over the child, a court heard.

Burnley magistrates were told Peter Frederick Harrison, 31, also took children's Christmas presents worth £200 from the boot of the £14,000 vehicle. He promptly threw the gifts into a skip.

Harrison, of Laithe Street, Burnley, has admitted theft and theft from a vehicle and was bailed until March 19.

Neil Standage, prosecuting, said victim Derek Dawson parked the Peugeot next to Burnley College last December and when he came out, it had gone.

When the defendant was arrested on January 2, he said he had switched the car number plates so he would not get caught when driving it. He said he had taken the vehicle to use as a "bargaining tool" but had intended to dump it.

Mr Standage told the court damage to the tune of almost £3,000 was caused to the car.

Paul Wood, defending, said Harrison, now working as a manager at a transport firm, had had a long-term relationship with Janine Proctor, the former partner of Mr Dawson. After what happened that was now platonic.

Miss Proctor and Mr Dawson had a four-year-old son and there had been a long-running dispute over the youngster since they split up about two years ago.

The child had been living with his mother and when Harrison came on the scene, Mr Dawson's attitude towards Miss Proctor changed substantially. He had been abusive towards her and threatening.

The defendant found the keys to the car at Miss Proctor's property and was aware Mr Dawson would be attending the college in Burnley later that evening. He was very upset over events concerning the little boy and went to take the vehicle.

Mr Wood told the court the child was later snatched from school by the complainant and there was hostility between all parties.

Harrison was sorry for what he had done.