A PERSISTENT thief with a penchant for stealing bottles of detergent made a clean get away from a Merseyside police station after two glaring security errors.

Michael O'Loughlin, who is barred from a string of shops because of his shoplifting predilection, had been arrested after being found in possession of a craft knife which he said he had for his self-protection.

He had a meeting with his solicitor at Wirral custody suite and after his lawyer left O'Loughlin "decided he would leave too," said Trevor Parry-Jones, prosecuting.

He walked along a corridor leading away from the custody sergeant's desk and found the security door at the end had been left ajar by an officer working in a storeroom.

He went through it into the security "air lock" and spotted a window between the two doors.

The window locked from the internal side but someone had left the key in it and O'Loughlin opened it, crawled through and escaped from the building.

Two days later on January 9 he was seen by police in Birkenhead and when stopped was found to have a shopping bag containing packets of ham - another item he regularly stole.

"He had a liking for both ham and soap," said Mr Parry-Jones.

Drug addict O’Loughlin, 30, was today sentenced to two years four months after admitting escaping, possessing a knife, assault, seven thefts and five breaches of the Criminal Behaviour Order banning him from various shops and harassing shop staff or customers on the Wirral.

Judge Alan Conrad QC said: "You are a persistent offender who will not desist from crime even when there are orders in force preventing you going to places which you steal from over and over again."

Liverpool Crown Court heard that O’Loughlin, of no fixed address, has committed 92 offences, including 53 for theft, and was on licence from jail at the time of his latest offences last month having been released just three weeks earlier.

Mr Parry-Jones said that O'Loughlin began his latest string of offences on January 4 at McColls convenience store in Tranmere when he stole four bottles of washing up liquid.

That shop was on the list of those he had been banned from entering by magistrates and on three other days before his arrest he returned to others shops on the list and stole steaks, ham and detergent.

He also went behind the counter at the pharmacy at St Catherine's Hospital in Birkenhead and callously stole three charity boxes.

Paul Davison, defending, said that the defendant was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine and after his release had been unable to avoid temptation.

"He steals ham and soap as they are easy to sell and get money.

"It is a relief for him to be remanded in custody because he will receive some form of detoxification."