A UNIVERSITY student told police officers he was homeless after they caught him driving a recently stolen car in Prestwich.

Aspiring chef Luis Fonseca was spotted driving the vehicle by police officers just hours after it had been taken from the driveway of a house.

At Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court, Claire Brocklebank, prosecuting, described how a Renault Captur was stolen in the early hours of May 10 with the owner telling police officers she must have dropped her car keys when she was running into her house to avoid the rain because there was no break-in.

The value of the car was put at £17,950 and it was obtained through the Motability scheme, which enables disabled people to lease a new car using their disability benefit.

Ms Brocklebank said: "Later that same day, at around 9.50pm, a police officer spotted the vehicle in Prestwich and realising it was the stolen vehicle he attempted to stop it."

The officer was in an unmarked car and he followed the defendant and with the assistance of another officer they managed to box it in but Fonseca, who was in the driving seat with a passenger, ran off.

"He was chased by police, climbed over a garden fence and onto some wasteland, but he was found by a police dog hiding nearby," said Ms Brocklebank.

"When he was arrested he said: 'I'm homeless and I'm sleeping here' but when he was searched he had the key to the vehicle."

Fonseca, of Alfred Road, Prenton, but formerly of Crumpsall, told officers he had bought the car for £400 and knew it was stolen.

He pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods but failed to attend court on June 1 this year so a bench warrant was issued and he was later arrested.

Peter Malone, defending, said Fonseca had fully co-operated with police officers and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

"In relation to his decision to buy this vehicle with hindsight he sees it as a foolish escapade," said Mr Malone.

"He knew this offer was too good to be true and the alarm bells were ringing.

"He is currently at the University of Suffolk studying business management and has a job as a chef which is profession he has always dreamed to enter.

"There is nothing to suggest he was anything to do with the original theft."

Recorder Andrew McLoughlin said: "Apparently he was a man without benefits who didn't work but acquired £400 to buy a motor car - there's no explanation as to how he's come by the money and it seems an ever evolving series of facts - he is very close to the timing of the theft of the motor vehicle.

"It doesn't make sense and it doesn't add up."

He handed Fonseca, who also pleaded guilty to failing to attend court, a four month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered him to carry out 50 hours of unpaid work.