A PROLIFIC criminal is behind bars after an off-duty officer caught him looking into back gardens moments after he burgled a house.

Matthew Cook, 31, of Thornbush, Basildon, and his friend Gary Goodwin, 34, of Princes Close, Laindon, smashed the patio doors of the home, in Forest Glade, Langdon Hills, on January 6, to get inside.

Basildon Crown Court heard the pair, who admitted the offence, left cupboards and drawers open in their search before putting electrical items and jewellery worth £1,000 in holdalls.

They jammed a key in one of the front door locks before leaving.

However, an off-duty officer saw the pair looking over fences and called in the information.

Police searched the scene and the two men ran off when they were spotted.

Officers tracked them down and discovered one of the holdalls, recovering some of the stolen items.

They could not find the second bag, containing a wedding ring, engagement ring and the victim’s grandmother’s ring.

The court was told the pair were addicted to drugs and had burgled to fund their habits, with Cook spending £630 a week at one point.

It also heard Cook, who had previously been convicted of two burglaries, had appeared before the courts 33 times before over 85 offences, and Goodwin had made 21 appearances for more than 30 offences.

Judge Ian Graham sentenced Cook, a father of two, to two-anda- half years in prison for the burglary.

Goodwin was sentenced to 12 months behind bars, suspended for 18 months.

He was also sentenced to 18 months probation and a drug rehabilitation programme.

Judge Graham said: “As far as your record goes, Cook, it is pretty bleak. This is your third dwelling burglary.”

He added: “There have been too many chances given to you, Cook, and they have been thrown away.”

Cook was also sentenced to three months in prison for two shop thefts and a further nine months for breaching a community order, all of which he admitted and will run concurrently.