TWO men who stole a man’s ‘beloved’ Jaguar while he was socialising with friends in Widnes have avoided jail.

Ben Johnson, of Mottershead Road in Widnes, and Stephen Blackhurst, of Ellesmere Port, pinched the car from the car park of Jaguar Land Rover Social Club on Cronton Lane.

The vehicle – an red XE R-Sport model valued at £11,137 – was later found in Rainhill after being abandoned, with evidence suggesting that there had been attempts to set the car alight.

But although the duo were not charged with damaging the Jaguar, they appeared at Liverpool Crown Court to face charges of theft.

Thomas Clarke, prosecuting, spoke of how the car’s owner visited the social club on October 12 last year.

The club is described as somewhere where he leads a football team from and attends regularly, parking his car in the same spot each time in view of CCTV cameras.

After meeting with friends in the bar area, he went to the toilet and bumped into both Blackhurst, 29, and Johnson, 32. It is believed to have been at this point when the keys to the vehicle were taken from the victim’s pocket.

It was 40 minutes later that he discovered that his keys were missing, and subsequently that his car was gone. It was reported missing and found the next day off Longton Lane in Rainhill.

The car was said to be ‘partly burnt out’, with charred pages of newspaper found in the footwells suggesting there was an attempt to set it alight from the inside. No damage was caused to the exterior.

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The car was found on Longton Lane in Rainhill the next day (Image: Google Maps)

The pair were later arrested and charged with theft of a motor vehicle. Blackhurst was also charged with driving while disqualified and driving without insurance.

Mr Clarke told the court how Blackhurst had 31 previous convictions and Johnson had 17.

David Wood, representing Johnson, and Simon Christie, representing Blackhurst, both gave similar defences for their clients, but admitted that they were ‘lucky not to be facing more serious charges’.

Both were said to have struggled with drugs and alcohol, but have started to turn their lives around by finding stable employment and accommodation.

Before handing down his sentence, Judge David Aubrey said: “I was impressed in part by your imagination when you both first appeared before the court.

“You said that your poor victim, with his beloved Jaguar, gave permission to you both to move his car. What a load of nonsense, but fortunately, both of you came to your senses.

“You both have unattractive records, but you are both making considerable progress in finding accommodation and employment to provide some stability and security in your lives.”

Blackhurst was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for 18 months, ordered to complete 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days, disqualified from driving for two years and must also take an extended retest before driving again.

Johnson was handed a four-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months, ordered to undertake 25 RAR days and disqualified from driving for nine months.