A MAN who stole and crashed a four-ton JCB vehicle has narrowly avoided a prison sentence.
North Devon Magistrates' Court heard the actions of Michael Cloak, 38, of Victoria Road in Barnstaple, were potentially extremely dangerous and had a significant effect on his victims.
Cloak had been walking from Witheridge to Barnstaple on October 21 when he discovered a yellow JCB telescopic loader vehicle in a steel fabricator's yard in South Molton.
The keys were in the ignition and Cloak decided to take the vehicle and drive it towards Barnstaple along North Road.
He crashed the vehicle four miles down the road, causing it to tip over.
Cloak pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicle taking, driving without insurance and driving without a licence at a previous hearing on October 22.
He reappeared on Friday, November 23 for sentencing.
Mark Haddow, for the prosecution, said the owner of the JCB received a call from a friend who had seen the vehicle being driven erratically.
He said: "The vehicle had stopped traffic in front and behind, stalled several times and was going backwards and forwards.
"The friend assumed the owner had lent it to someone who didn't know how to drive it and he was planning to offer some help.
"However, when he approached the vehicle the driver was angry and aggressive so he stepped back."
Mr Haddow said the vehicle was then flipped onto its side further down the road, causing it to be written off.
He said: "It was very lucky no one else was involved.
"Mr Cloak hurt his arm in the crash and was airlifted to hospital by the Devon Air Ambulance.
"However, he later discharged himself and was arrested and cautioned."
Mr Haddow said the insurance value of the vehicle was £7,500 and that Cloak had also caused more than £2,500 worth of damage to a wall and metal work at the yard.
Mr Haddow said: "Although the owner received £7,500 from the insurance company, he has had to pay £15,000 to replace the vehicle.
"He also spent £1,500 hiring a similar vehicle while he found one to purchase and has missed out on a great deal of work in the interim.
"This offence was not just careless, it was extremely dangerous and had a significant effect on a local business."
The court heard Cloak had numerous previous convictions, including two for burglary, and had also overcome heroin and alcohol problems.
Tim Hook, for the defence, said Cloak had driven the vehicle very slowly and while his actions were potentially dangerous, there was no actual danger to the public.
Mr Hook said: "My client's partner is undergoing treatment for cancer.
"She is distressed and Mr Cloak is supporting her through this. In the context of these emotions and the consequent pressure people sometimes do things for which there is no logical explanation."
Presiding magistrate Robin Hagley said: "This is one hell of a serious offence and you have a horrendous record.
"Taking this vehicle was lethal and the damage caused could have been phenomenal."
Cloak was given a 26-week prison sentence suspended for two years. He was banned from driving for three years and ordered to pay £300 compensation.
He was also made the subject of a six-month community order with a curfew between 5pm and 5am.
Mr Hagley said: "You are lucky to have your liberty."