A WOULD-be thief who tried to steal metal from an under-renovation South Cumbria building has been given a suspended jail term.

Carlisle Crown Court heard how Neil Raymond Tallon was brought to justice with the help of an eagle-eyed head teacher who turned detective while working late near the crime scene in Crosthwaite.

Matthew Jessop was still at school when he saw suspicious night-time activity at the work site of a former vicarage. Mr Jessop provided police with a description of 44-year-old Tallon; took down the registration number of a white van he witnessed which was registered to the suspect's address; and informed officers which way the vehicle headed as it left the area.

Police arrived at Tallon's Broad Ings address in Kendal before he had returned home. He made no comment when quizzed but later admitted an attempted theft on June 21 last year. Lead flashing and copper pipes were said to have been piled up ready for removal from the construction site, although nothing was actually stolen.

Father-of-four Tallon was said to be a man with 106 offences on his record - 71 for theft or similar. However, the court heard most crimes pre-dated 2000, and there had been a recent "de-escalation" of his offending.

Judge Peter Davies suspended a six-month prison sentence, and ordered Tallon - a full-time joiner - to complete rehabilitation. "Your life of crime has got to stop - and it will stop - or the sentences will get longer and longer," Judge Davies told him.