A MAN has been spared prison for his role in a burglary where masked raiders stole a £32,000 Mercedes...while the owners watched powerlessly from abroad.

Jimmy Harbour, 20, of Oak Lane, Crays Hill, was one of three men who targeted the rural home in Ongar while the owners were on holiday.

Luckily, they had left sophisticated security in place and were alerted when the rear patio door was smashed on July 10 last year. The Merridews watched as Harbour, along with two other suspects, forced their way into the home before ransacking the property.

They then forced the security gates of the large home open so they could drive the 32k Mercedes off the property.

A description of the burglars along with the registration of the blue Ford Focus they had arrived in was circulated among police officers and the Ford was later spotted in the area.

After attempting to pull it over, officers were forced to give chase for 30 minutes, before three men were arrested.

One other suspect, Donny Archer, 19, of Chelmsford Avenue, Romford, was jailed earlier this year for this offence as well as a string of other burglaries. He was handed a prison sentence of four and a half years after standing trial.

The other suspect, a 17-year-old who cannot be named for legal reasons, was due to stand trial but did not attend and is currently wanted by Essex Police for several burglary offences.

The court heard both co-defendants were prolific burglars - unlike Harbour who had no criminal record prior to this conviction.

Harbour initially denied the single count of burglary but changed his plea ahead of the trial.

Sentencing Harbour at Basildon Crown Court, Judge Ian Graham said: “There are factors in this case that place it in the highest category.

“This was a very serious offence as you can see that one of your co-accused was sent to prison for four and half years. On the face of it, this should be marked with a custodial sentence. You are in a different position. I accepted that you were not the instigator of this offence and that you may not have realised the seriousness of it.

“You have no previous convictions and are of previous good character.” He was given a community order which requires him to complete 150 hours of unpaid work. He must pay £800 in prosecution costs and £140 surcharge.