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Houghton-le-Spring excavator thief caught on camera taking a slow-speed jaunt blamed it on a lookalike

A cheeky thief who took a low-speed getaway blamed a lookalike when he was caught by police.

Donning a hi-vis jacket and nonchalantly walking towards the mini digger, John Hall looks like a laborer going about his business. But after starting slowly in the machine, he was never to be seen again.

When a police officer later recognized Hall from the footage, right down to his distinctive tattoo, he appeared to have dug himself a hole he couldn’t get out of. But the former soldier lied in an attempt to evade justice, saying that while it looked like him, it was just a coincidence.

After finally confessing to the theft of the machine, worth nearly £17,000, he has now been jailed. Newcastle Crown Court heard he entered a Bellway Homes construction site in Sunderland and left in the Volvo mini digger, which belonged to P&A’s underground works, in June 2020.

Prosecutor Elizabeth Muir said the theft was discovered when a worker went to the site on June 20, 2020 and realized the digger was gone. Miss Muir told the court the CCTV had been checked and added: ‘On June 18, 2020 at around 6pm a man wearing a high visibility jacket entered the site, went to the digger, got into the digger and just chased him away.”

John Hall, from Houghton-le-Spring, who stole a backhoe from a Sunderland building site

The court heard a police officer later recognize Hall from the footage. Miss Muir added: “She was shown the CCTV footage and accepted the man looked like her, until he had what appeared to be the same tattoo on his arm, but denied it was him.

“He believed it was just a coincidence that there was a man who looked almost like him who was captured by CCTV and denied any involvement.” The court heard Hall, 33, of Derwent Street, Houghton-le-Spring, has 52 previous convictions.

Recorder Simon Eckersley said the evidence against Hall had been “overwhelming” and the offense involved “significant planning”. He told Hall: “On June 18, 2020, you blatantly went out to steal, having planned to do so, as evidenced by your possession and wearing of a high visibility jacket.

“Your target was an expensive factory part, a Volvo mini excavator, worth a significant price. It was a serious theft.”

Liam O’Brien, defending, said Hall, who had a young baby, had “buried his head in the sand”, to try to “hold things off as long as possible”. Mr O’Brien said Hall had spent four years in the armed forces and served on the front line in Afghanistan, and had since struggled with alcohol and drug abuse.

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