A SOUTH Somerset man who admitted fitting new number plates to a vehicle stolen during a test drive has escaped jail.

Adrian Beer, 41, of St Mary’s Close, Seavington St Mary, received a nine month suspended prison sentence at Taunton Crown Court yesterday (Monday) after earlier pleading guilty to handling stolen goods.

Janice Eagles, prosecuting, said the car, a BMW 5 series, was stolen from a garage near Chepstow, Wales, on May 11, 2009.

A tracking device fitted to the vehicle traced it to Shepton Beauchamp – 2½ miles from where Beer was living at the time.

The car had been fitted with new number plates which came from a slightly older BMW 5 series registered to Beer. His fingerprints were also found on paper in the glove compartment.

During police interview Beer, who has previous convictions for handling stolen vehicles, claimed he knew nothing about the car or even where Shepton Beauchamp was.

But he later admitted assisting in the retention of the vehicle and fitting the plates after being asked by “someone from his past”. He said that was the extent of his involvement.

James Birne, defending, said his client was in a “dire financial situation”

and was about £28,000 in debt.

He said Beer also suffered from muscle degeneration and rheumatism in his hands but delayed an operation to treat them so he could continue to earn and support his large family.

As well as his prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, Judge Graham Hume Jones made Beer the subject of an 18-month supervision order and ordered him to attend the Thinking Skills programme.

Beer was ordered to pay £500 court costs.