A burglar stole gin and beer from his neighbours after a confrontation saw him spiral back to alcoholism.

But well-spoken William Gifford was spared jail by a district judge after hearing the 36-year-old was remorseful and had previously managed to kick his alcohol habit.

Gifford, a keen sailor who lives in a bothy in his parents’ garden, thanked judge Tim Pattinson at the end of the virtual hearing in front of Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court – telling the judge: “Bless your heart.”

Prosecutor Kate Prince told the court the defendant had committed four burglaries on successive days in his parents’ village - Upper Minety.

On May 29, he stole beer from a neighbour’s shed as well as a bottle of gin from the kitchen. A day later he took Peroni bottles from an outhouse at the same property.

The homeowner went around to Gifford’s parents’ house and spoke to his mother, who offered to pay for the booze that had been taken. Police arrested the man, but he was later released.

Despite that arrest he was back in the same house on June 1. The homeowner believed he had secured the house, but when he went to make a gin and tonic that evening he found another bottle of gin had gone missing.

On June 2 at around 4am, Gifford raided an outbuilding at another house, leaving with a bottle of alcohol. A neighbour saw the burglary and alerted the police.

Ms Prince said the victim of three of the break-ins said his wife and teenage son had been affected by the crimes. His wife was starting to feel vulnerable in her own home, fearing she would find the burglar in the house if she came downstairs.

Gifford, of Upper Minety, pleaded guilty to two dwelling house burglaries and two non-dwelling house burglaries.

He had one burglary conviction from last September for which he had been given 80 hours of unpaid work.

Alun Morgan, defending, said his client had struggled with alcohol but for the past eight months had been working very well with Alcoholics Anonymous.

However, in recent days he had returned to drinking. The solicitor said Gifford suffers from Asperger’s and one of the effects of his condition is that he often apologises to people. “He went to apologise to an individual and they returned it with some abuse.”

Michelle James, for the probation service, said he had completed all his unpaid work hours and had worked very well with probation.

Addressing the judge himself, Gifford said: “Over the last eight months I have managed to become an honest human being and that had to come first before my alcoholism got any better. I had to become honest to myself.”

He asked the judge not to send him to prison, as he had a friend who had been released from jail recent on an electronic tag. He feared the tag would affect his ability to go sailing, a pastime he enjoyed, and his involvement with a group helping disabled people take to the water.

“I am extremely remorseful and obviously very anxious and concerned,” he added.

District Judge Tim Pattinson sentenced him to 16 weeks imprisonment suspended for a year. He must complete 15 rehabilitation activity requirement days, 60 hours of unpaid work and pay £150 compensation.

He said: “You will end up doing 16 weeks inside if you commit any further offences within the next 12 months and you will also end up doing 16 weeks if you fail to do any unpaid work or rehabilitation.” The judge warned Gifford he faced a minimum sentence of three years’ imprisonment as a third-strike burglar if he committed any more break-ins.