A BRICKLAYER stole his ex-girlfriend’s £16,000 car, crashed it into a hedge then led police on a high-speed chase a day later, Swindon Crown Court heard.

But Jason Scarff was spared an immediate spell behind bars after Judge Jason Taylor QC noted the probation service believed there was a realistic prospect the 30-year-old could be rehabilitated.

Sentencing Scarff to 20 months suspended for two years the judge told him: “I make this very clear to you: I’m going to reserve this sentence to myself. If you breach it you are coming right back before me and you will go straight back to prison.

“I’m giving you this chance because you seem to have the glimmers of being able to change your life as you have started to since 2016. But if you let me down your feet aren’t going to touch the ground.”

Swindon Crown Court heard Scarff had split from his girlfriend of three months on June 16. In the early hours of the next morning she returned home and, without realising it, he followed her inside.

Prosecutor Ian Fenny said: “He must have been waiting for her and concealed in some way.”

They had argued and he swiped the keys to her white Vauxhall Astra. Over the next few hours he made a number of comments claiming he would harm himself and the police, alerted to the incident, logged him as a missing person and began trying to find him.

By 2.30am he had crashed the car into a hedge and had to be helped out by members of the public. The car was damaged but Scarff managed to drive away.

A few minutes later police saw him behind the wheel of the Astra. When he became aware he was being tailed by officers he made off, leading them on a chase that reached 100mph before cops called it off over fears for the safety of other road users.

He was arrested the next day but was released by police – an action described by prosecutor Mr Fenny as “quite extraordinary”.

Despite bail conditions banning him from returning to his former girlfriend’s home, Scarff went straight round there after he was released from custody and tried to get in. He was spoken to by officers but wasn’t arrested. Scarff also sent his ex pictures of her car.

The next day, June 18, he was again spotted driving the white Astra, this time with two passengers in the car with him. When he saw police following him he drove off at speed along the A350, hitting 80mph and straddling the white lines in the centre of the road. He was eventually brought to a halt near Shaftesbury.

In a victim impact statement, Scarff’s ex said the vehicle had been written off by her insurance company. She wrote: “The effect of not having my vehicle has been really bad. It feels like I’m still being tormented by him.”

Scarff, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty at the magistrates’ court to aggravated vehicle taking, driving while disqualified and without insurance and dangerous driving. He appeared before Swindon Crown Court for sentence via video link from HMP Bristol.

Mitigating, Andrew Stone said his client had wanted to get back clothes and money he claimed were at his ex’s home.

He said: “He stormed off, took her car, got arrested, came back and wanted to return the car but to compound his stupidity followed it though by using it as a bargaining chip in order to try and get his money and clothes back.”

He had a poor criminal record, with 16 previous convictions including for burglary. However, his offending had reduced since 2016. Up until lockdown he was working as a self-employed bricklayer.

Mr Stone said: “By working he found he was able to put his energies into that and keep his nose clean. It had, in his own words to me, turned his life around.”

When his work dried up during lockdown his use of cannabis had increased. By June he had managed to reduce his consumption of the drug to just once in the evening. But it meant he was having to cope with daily stresses without the aid of cannabis, putting him under greater strain.

“He realises he has been an absolute fool over this incident,” Mr Stone said.

Judge Taylor ordered Scarff do 275 hours of unpaid work, telling the defendant: “You can wince, but it could have been higher.” He was banned from the roads for two years and given a restraining order preventing him from contacting his ex.

The judge said Scarff’s actions in returning to his former partner’s house and driving her car having been released on bail had been brazen.