A SERIAL offender, who regarded prison as an occupational hazard, hired a van which he fitted with false number plates to steal £24,000 in cash and property across the south.

John Borland, 53, travelled from the Midlands with two associates to specifically target vans which they followed until they found the perfect opportunity to pounce.

Borland and his two accomplices struck four times in April and June of last year, said prosecutor Audrey Archer.

At Brighton, they stole three large boxes, containing cigarettes, as the driver was making a delivery. He returned to his vehicle to find the tail lift down, back door open and almost £5,000 worth of goods missing.

The trio travelled from Birmingham about six weeks later and bought £58 worth of fuel from a Portsmouth service station but made off without paying. Later they shadowed a fast food van from Southampton to Eastleigh. While the driver was in a Pizza shop, his two accomplices smashed a window and grabbed £100 from the vehicle.

Two days later, they returned to Hampshire, making off with £60 worth of fuel from a Chandler’s Ford garage before following a van from Southampton to Wool in Dorset.

After going into a shop, the driver returned to find one of the thieves getting out of his van. As they sped off, he found a bag full of cigarettes on the ground and a further £11,000 worth of other cigarettes missing.

The trio again travelled to Southampton five days later and followed a van to Portsmouth. While the driver was in a cash and carry outlet, they grabbed his takings for the day – two cheques and £7,300 in cash.

Ms Archer said Borland was arrested three days later after he and two men had followed a van to Shoreham where they stole cigarettes valued at £8,000. He was jailed by magistrates for 28 days.

“Unfortunately, due to different police forces dealing with the different offences, that conviction has not been dealt with at the same time as these offences,” she explained.

Borland, a 53-year-old jobless man, from Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, admitted four thefts, which Recorder Paul Garlick QC described as “organised sorties,” and two of making off without payment.

Asking for a similar theft where he stole almost £6,000 worth of cigarettes in Gateshead to be considered, he was jailed for two years, the court heard 36 previous convictions for 57 offences, mostly for dishonesty, dating back to 1975.

In mitigation, Nicola Attwood said Borland’s gain was less than his two accomplices who were never charged. The offences took place about a year ago but he accepted they were planned.