A serial burglar who preyed on small businesses has been jailed after being caught red handed with a charity collecting tin which he had taken from a gift shop.

Philip Matthews was found clutching the box along with other loot after being tracked through the streets of Barnstaple by a police dog.

He had been let off with a suspended sentence for previous burglaries just three weeks earlier and was supposed to be receiving treatment for a heroin habit when he went on a crime spree.

Matthews, aged 33, of Hughes Road, Barnstaple, admitted three burglaries and criminal damage and was jailed for a total of three years and three months by Judge Erik Salomonsen at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him:”Every time you go out and commit these offences, there is a victim for whom it has a really significant effect.”

Joss Ticehurst, prosecuting, said all the offences took place in Barnstaple, and all but one after he received the suspended sentence in March

On January 16, Matthews went behind the counter of the Hong Kong House Chinese Restaurant while he was waiting for a take away and stole £200 cash.

He broke into the Golden Lion Tap at 7 am on March 25 this year while staff were asleep upstairs and left empty handed after causing £2,000 damage to the till.

Two days later he broke into the Card and Gift Shop and stole the charity box, gifts, chocolate and £28.41 cash.

A neighbour was woken up by the sound of him trying to smash the window of the next door shop. He alerted the police and a sniffer dog tracked Matthews, who was found with a bag of loot.

Matthews has convictions for 87 previous offences dating back to his teens, including numerous burglaries and thefts.

Barry White, defending, said Matthews has spent much of his adult life in jail but is now being isolated from other prisoners who attacked him in the belief he had drugs hidden inside his body.

He said he had been genuine in his intention to stop using heroin and start a new life but found the pressure of his rehabilitation treatment too much for him to cope with.