A CONVICTED dangerous driver stole a works transit van later abandoned in the middle of the road as police followed suspects into a traveller's site.

Billy Eggerton admitted theft on the day of his trial while his father-in-law, Alfred Jones, pleaded guilty at an earlier stage to handling stolen goods.

Eggerton, aged 28, of Little Newcroft, Much Birch, Hereford and Jones, aged 45, of Pound Bank Road, Malvern appeared for sentence at Worcester Crown Court on Wednesday.

Both men were initially charged with the theft of the Ford transit van, stolen from Upton, a theft which caused 'huge inconvenience' to a town catering business.

The van was being driven in the direction of a traveller's site when it was abandoned in the middle of the road. A group of men made their escape in a VW Golf. The car was being driven in front of the van.

Eggerton's fingerprints were found on the engine barrel cowling while Jones admitted using jump leads to start the van, used by the business to make deliveries. Jones was discovered by police behind the wheel of the Golf as it left the traveller's site.

Eggerton further admitted breach of a suspended sentence (15 months suspended for 24 months) for aggravated vehicle taking and dangerous driving, imposed at Taunton Crown Court.

The van, insured for up to £10,000, was stolen from Bishops Catering in Upton between March 3 and March 6, 2018.

The business owner, Tracey Prior, had left the van locked in the car park on March 3, the keys left hanging up in the kitchen of the premises.

Police were called by a witness, described as 'a public-spirited onlooker' by the judge, after he observed a group of men acting 'suspiciously' near the van parked at a Toby Carvery in Over, near Gloucester, on March 6.

Geoffrey Dann, prosecuting, said the van was later driven off followed by a Volkswagen Golf before it triggered an ANPR camera on the A48.

"Police follow and find the van abandoned in the middle of the road" said Mr Dann.

A police officer observed people getting out of the van and into the VW Golf. The Golf was driven into a traveller's site, Mr Dann told the court.

Jones was the only person in the Golf when it was driven out again.

Inside they found a screwdriver and gloves. The van was recovered.

The ignition barrel has been broken with the cowling removed. The van had been started without the use of a key.

"On the broken ignition barrel a fingerprint was found matching that of Mr Eggerton," said Mr Dann.

In interview Jones said he was asked to help start the van but became aware this was not a 'proper course of action' when he saw the state of the van.

Eggerton told police he 'knew nothing about the van and could not account for why his fingerprints were there'.

In a victim personal statement Ms Prior said she had had to run the business without the van, purchased two years before, and that this had caused 'huge inconvenience'.

Ilana Davis, for Eggerton, argued that it would be unjust to activate the suspended sentence because of the amount of time that had elapsed since the offence, his strong work ethic and his importance to his family.

"He regrets his involvement in this offence" she said.

Ms Davis said the father-of-three had always worked since leaving school and had no problems with alcohol or drugs but had suffered from bouts of depression.

Judith Kenney, for Jones, asked him to be given maximum credit for his early guilty plea.

Miss Kenney said of her client, an unemployed landscape gardener: "He's learned a salutory lesson."

She further described her client as 'a huge success story', referring to a 'huge gap in his offending' and that he had 'turned his life around'.

"It's a source of shame on his part and sadness that he did follow this through," said Miss Kenney.

Recorder Richard Atkins QC sentenced Eggerton to a six month prison sentence suspended for two years, accepting his basis of plea that he was 'not the initial thief' and 'got involved at a later stage'.

He did not activate the original suspended sentence but fined him £100 for the breach. The judge further sentenced him to a community order for two years. Attached to that order, he must complete 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days, a Thinking Skills programme and 150 hours of unpaid work. Eggerton must pay £500 compensation to Ms Prior and £310 costs.

The judge accepted that Jones had been out of trouble for six years prior to this, giving him full credit for his early guilty plea to handling.

Jones was sentenced to a 12 month community order and 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days. He was also placed on an electronically monitored curfew for six months between 7pm and 7am. Jones was also ordered to pay compensation of £500 and £310.

"Maybe hitting you in the pocket will make you think twice in future" said Recorder Atkins.