A MOMENT of madness almost cost a trainee solider his Army career.
Rifleman Ben Darren Kneale caused more than £1,700 of damage when he smashed the windscreens of nine cars.
A court heard that Kneale was on leave from training at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire and is just weeks away from his passing-out parade.
Prosecutor Paul Doney told Sunderland magistrates that a gas engineer spotted two hooded figures smash the windscreen of a car in Cortina Avenue, at 10pm on February 16.
Kneale, 21, was arrested along with a 16-year-old who cannot be named for legal reasons.
He admitted nine charges of criminal damage.
Mr Doney said the cost of repairing the cars ranged between £75 and £475, with some owners forking out for an excess on their insurance, while others met the bill themselves.
Defending Kneale, of Goodwood Road, Grindon, Chris Wilson said that after finding out his grandfather had died, the young soldier began drinking heavily with his teenage friend.
He added: “Mr Neale is currently under no illusions that should a community order be imposed, should a large fine be imposed or should his liberty be deprived, effectively his Army career is over.
“The Army has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to misdemeanours.”
Kneale, who is originally from Bristol, told the court he had “quite a bit to drink” that day.
“I remember running over one car then after that everything is blank until being arrested.
“I feel disgusted in myself. I have never done anything like this before.”
Captain Stewart Kenny told magistrates that Kneale was due to pass out into 3rd Battalion The Rifles, based in the Redford Barracks, in Edinburgh, on Friday.
He said: “I’m sure you are aware the Army is downsizing and one of the ways we are downsizing is that we are not employing people who have behaviour or discipline problems.
“He is very mature for a 21-year-old and is in the top of the middle third of the platoon.
“The section commander and myself have been very impressed with his conduct.
“We were very surprised with what he had done.”
Chairman of the bench Hilary Malick ordered Kneale to pay compensation of £1,768, at £200 a month, plus £85 court costs.
A 16-year-old boy was given a four-month referral order at Sunderland Youth Court after admitting criminal damage.