A shoplifter injured a policeman and demolished a garage during a high speed getaway in an ambulance, a court heard today.
Richard Lampey had already stolen some suits and attacked a shop security officer when he suddenly complained of chest pains and was rushed to hospital.
Once there, he appeared to recover enough to leave and ignore a constable who had arrived to arrest him.
As the officer radioed for backup, the 48-year-old thief spotted an ambulance and then seemed to suffer a further bout of ill-health.
The crew immediately rushed to help, only for another apparent improvement in his condition enabling him to leap behind the wheel.
London's Harrow Crown Court heard he then ``floored'' the accelerator while one of the ambulancemen scrambled into the passenger seat and the policeman hung onto him through an open window.
Both desperately tried to wrench the keys from the ignition as the vehicle first careered through the busy grounds of Barnet General Hospital, North London, before turning into a crowded residential road.
Worried about hitting children playing in the road, the ambulanceman finally managed to pull the wheel to one side.
Richard Hearnden, prosecuting, said the vehicle ploughed through a garden hedge before embedding itself in a garage.
The building promptly collapsed, crushing a motorbike and ``generally causing a considerable amount of damage''.
Counsel told the court that fortunately the police officer had managed to hurl himself clear seconds before impact and escaped with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises.
The ambulanceman, meanwhile, had thrown himself into the footwell to ``avoid being catapulted through the windscreen''.
As he struggled to get out of the smoke-filled vehicle, the defendant - dazed but otherwise unhurt - pushed aside the airbag, kicked out a window and crawled through.
``The damage to the ambulance was estimated at Å3,000,'' the barrister added.
Lampey, of Millfield Road, Edgware, North London, admitted theft from Marks & Spencer in Brent Cross, last September, common assault, escaping lawful custody and aggravated vehicle taking.
He also pleaded guilty to supermarket shoplifting and asked for five similar offences to be considered.
Imposing an 18-month drug treatment and testing order, Recorder David Railton QC, told the defendant that despite previous convictions for dishonesty stretching back 33 years and the seriousness of this latest brushes with the law, he had ``hesitantly'' decided not to pass a ``substantial'' prison sentence.
He added there were indications he was ``finally addressing an addiction to a gallery of drugs, including crack cocaine and heroin, and are attempting to put these problems behind you.''