A THIEF has been jailed for almost two and a half years after last committing a house burglary 16 years ago.

Due to stealing a bicycle from a hallway last year Barry Brown fell foul of the so-called "three strikes" law which makes it mandatory for thieves who have committed three domestic burglaries to be jailed for a minimum of three years, less a reduction for an early guilty plea.

Bolton Crown Court heard how, after committing two burglaries in 2004, 47-year-old Brown began to reform until a return to drugs two years ago.

And Hayley Bennett, prosecuting, told how, on June 15 last year, he stole a bicycle from a house after the disabled householder went to get a cigarette he had asked her for.

Miss Bennett described how a cycle owner, Danielle Unsworth, and her disabled mother live at the house in Westbourne Avenue, Great Lever and have known Brown for many years.

At 3pm the £400 cycle was in the hallway and the front door was open.

Miss Bennett said Miss Unsworth was in the shower and her mother upstairs when they heard someone shouting her name from the doorway.

"When her mother got downstairs she saw Barry Brown on the doorstep," said Miss Bennett.

Brown repeatedly tried to sell the woman a lawnmower but she refused

"He eventually accepted this and asked if she could go and get him a cigarette ," said Miss Bennett.

The woman agreed but warned him it would take her a while because of her disabilities.

"When she returned downstairs both Barry and the bike were gone," said Miss Bennett.

Neighbours' CCTV showed Brown, of View Street, Bolton, taking the cycle.

In a statement read to the court Miss Unsworth said: "I have known him all my life. He knows my mum is disabled and has completely taken advantage of that."

She described the bicycle as her "prized possession" which she saved to buy and used to get her to work.

Brown, of View Street, Deane, was arrested at his home two days later after trying to run away.

"While the officers were searching his home for the bicycle he was in the kitchen smoking a cigarette and began to cry," said Miss Bennett.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know I have done wrong," he told them, and admitted he had sold the bike for £10 and some drugs, but had been given a rock instead of the drugs he was expecting.

Brown pleaded guilty to burglary and the court heard that he has 40 previous convictions for 81 offences.

Nicholas Ross, defending, asked Judge Timothy Stead not to impose a three strike sentence, claiming it would be unjust as the crime was a "limited intrusion" and he has stayed out of trouble for 13 years.

"For many years he was using and abusing heroin and for the last couple of years has relapsed," said Mr Ross, who added that Brown had lost his supermarket warehouse job because of his drug use.

"He has let himself down and he feels he has let his family down badly in terms of what he did last June," said Mr Ross.

Judge Stead ruled that, despite the lengthy gap in Brown's offending, it would not be unjust to impose the minimum sentence for three strike burglaries and so Brown was jailed for 876 days.