A THIEF who tried to steal an excavator thought it would help solve his coronavirus lockdown money troubles.

But soon after Thomas Allen had broken into the Hitachi mini excavator’s cab and loaded the machine onto a trailer, his van was stopped by police and he was arrested.

At Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court Judge Paul Lawton was not impressed with 27-year-old Allen’s explanation for his crime.

“If everybody who had been put on furlough or made redundant resorted to stealing we would be in anarchy by now,” he stated.

The court heard how Allen, of Garside Grove, Smithills, found the digger on a building site in Ash Street, Heywood, at 7pm on February 26.

“He drove a Ford Transit van onto the building site with a trailer attached to it,” said Rhia Abukhalil, prosecuting.

“He approached a mini digger on the site, smashed the door of it to gain entry and then drove it onto his trailer.”

But as the van drove away, he was followed by police, who stopped him and returned the digger, said to be worth around £20,000 to its owners, ISM Contractors. Allen, who was already subject to a community sentence for assault at the time, pleaded guilty to theft.

Rachel Faux, defending, said the value of the digger is disputed and stressed that it had been recovered.

“This is out of character and perhaps representative of a very difficult year, as many have had, in lockdown because of Covid,” she said. “He recognises it was stupid.”

Judge Lawton sentenced Allen to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months and ordered him to undertake 100 hours of unpaid work as well as eight days of rehabilitation activities.

He told Allen: “There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people out there who have been affected by the Covid pandemic — they have been furloughed, they have been made redundant.

“There are airline pilots trying to work as barmen. It has had a massive impact on society and if they all went out and decided they were going to steal something of high value to try and put matters right in their lives we would be in absolute anarchy.

“I am prepared to see this as aberrant behaviour on your part because I accept you are normally an industrious and resourceful man looking for work rather than trying to live off the state.

“But you know full well this was an absolutely stupid attempt to try and put right your financial woes and difficulties.

“I hope these courts won’t see you again and trust you have learnt your lesson.”