Sunderland thief looted 49 tradesmen's vans in £30,000 crime spree

Steven Ball
Steven Ball

A tool thief who stole from 49 tradesmen's vans has been jailed for 37 months.

Steven Ball used a skeleton key to target Ford Transit vans owned by self-employed builders, plumbers and handymen.

Ball cruised the Wearside and surrounding areas stealing from vans parked in Sunderland, Houghton, and villages including South Hetton, West Rainton, and Shiney Row.

All except one of Ball's victims was self-employed, Durham Crown Court heard.

"The impact of his offending was similar in each case," said Johnathan Harley, prosecuting.

"The victims suffered inconvenience, loss of work, and most had to replace their tools from their own resources.

"Tools with a total value of about £30,000 were stolen, although we have not been able to put a value to every theft."

Ball, a disqualified driver, was arrested when he was seen driving a Vauxhall Vectra in Town End Farm in Sunderland.

"That was the car he used to commit the tool thefts," said Mr Harley.

"A police officer saw Ball driving it on Washington Road and formed the impression he was trying to avoid being stopped.

"The car drove in excess of 30mph past a primary school before coming sharply to a stop in Bexhill Road.

"Ball, who the officer recognised, made off on foot in the direction of Boldon.

"He was arrested four days later."

Ball 34, of Trinity Street, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, admitted 11 offences of theft, three offences of driving while disqualified, theft of a motor vehicle, three offences of driving while disqualified, careless driving, and he asked for 38 offences of theft to be taken into consideration.

Tony Hawks, defending, said in mitigation: "His best mitigation is his pleas of guilty to all matters.

"That has cleared up a significant number of offences, although it may come as little comfort to his victims.

"Mr Ball's story is a sadly familiar one, he became addicted to cocaine and turned to theft to fund his addiction.

"Since being in custody, he tells me is drugs free and determined to remain that way.

"When at liberty he has caring responsibilities for his mother.

"Mr Ball wants to finish his sentence and contribute usefully to his family and to society."

Judge Simon Hickey jailed Ball for 37 months.

The judge told him: "You have a dreadful record, taking in some 120 offences.

"These latest thefts showed a significant degree of planning, using a skeleton key. Many of the victims had to replace the tools from their own pocket, and they also lost work."

Ball was disqualified from driving for two years from his projected release date from prison.