A wanted burglar has been jailed after he admitted stealing a kayak and trying to paddle across one of the world's busiest sea lanes to start a new life in France.
Paul Redford, 46, was on the run after committing thefts in Darlington and Blyth, Northumberland, dating back to 2011, when he had to be rescued a mile into the English Channel by the RNLI last month.
Teesside Crown Court heard how Redford, a trialist for the English homeless football team, had broken into a holiday chalet in Camber, East Sussex, cooked food for himself and spent the night there.
Rachel Masters, prosecuting, said Redford spotted a kayak outside the holiday home the next morning and decided to head to France with only a child's life jacket for safety.
Police were called by a member of the public who was concerned that Redford might be about to kill himself when he was spotted paddling out to sea in the kayak.
Miss Masters said: "The RNLI had to be launched. The defendant was found a mile out to sea in the canoe and he was recovered by the lifeboat.
"He told the crew he had stolen it from a house in Camber. He said he was wanted by the police for a number of years and was going to get to France."
Almost exactly two years before, Redford had stolen a laptop and £1,500 rent money from flats where he was living in Darlington.
Three months later, he convinced a former prison pal to let him stay at his house in Blyth as he was homeless.
Redford stole mobile phones, watches, a jacket and a games console worth a total of £1,145 when he was left alone in the property.
He stayed in London for two years, selling the Big Issue and keeping out of trouble, the court heard. He even featured in a recent TV documentary about homelessness.
But he came to the attention of the authorities again with his bold plan to get to France.
James Fenny, defending, said Redford, with 27 previous convictions for 83 offences, was not trying to flee justice so much as start afresh.
He had just left London having kicked drugs and was cold, desperate and hungry when he broke into the chalet.
"He gets into the boat and rather foolishly he sets out to start anew," Mr Fenny said. "He presents very well as an intelligent, polite individual who away from drugs is a pleasant person."
Judge Howard Crowson jailed Redford for two years and five months after he pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and one of burglary.
"You have a really very bad record for dishonesty, there are a large number of burglaries," said the judge. "You are capable of remaining out of trouble providing you can keep free of drugs."
After Redford's arrest last month a spokesman at Littlestone-on-Sea lifeboat station said: "Earlier he had spoken to an angler on the beach and asked for a last cigarette because he said he didn't think he was going to make it across.
"He was a quiet unassuming man. We brought him aboard together with the kayak and put an adult's life jacket on him.
"He'd been wearing a kiddies life jacket which had been in the kayak when it was taken.
"He was quite amenable when we brought him ashore. We gave him a cup of tea and a bun and then the police took him away."
The RNLI crew of volunteers were tasked by the Coastguard to assist in the rescue and it was stressed they played no part in Redford being arrested.