David Cameron has insisted that burglars are "cowards" after a judge told a sneak thief his break-ins took courage.

The Prime Minister, who revealed he had been burgled twice, branded the offence "hateful".

The comments came after Judge Peter Bowers sparked an outcry during a case at Teesside Crown Court on Tuesday.

According to the Evening Gazette newspaper, Judge Bowers told an offender who raided three homes in five days: "It takes a huge amount of courage, as far as I can see, for somebody to burgle somebody's house. I wouldn't have the nerve."

Handing 26-year-old Richard Rochford, from Redcar, a suspended 12-month term, the judge said: "I'm going to take a chance on you."

The judge said he "might get pilloried" for his decision, but claimed jail would not do much good in this case.

After acknowledging the trauma burglary victims face, the judge explained he would not jail Rochford, who had quit drugs since the February break-ins. He must complete a two-year supervision order with drug rehabilitation and 200 hours' unpaid work, with a one-year driving ban.

Speaking on the ITV programme Daybreak, Mr Cameron admitted he had not seen the details of the case, but added: "I am very clear that burglary is not bravery. Burglary is cowardice. Burglary is a hateful crime.

"People sometimes say it is not a violent crime, but actually if you have been burgled, you do feel it was violence. I have a very clear view about this, which is burglary is a despicable and hateful crime.

"I have been burgled twice. You feel completely violated. When someone has smashed their way into your house and stolen your possessions... I am very clear that people who repeatedly burgle should be sent to prison."