YORK’S top judge has criticised a law change that has allowed one of the city’s most prolific criminals to spend less time behind bars.

The Recorder of York, Judge Stephen Ashurst, spoke out as he jailed Thomas Matthew Paul Metcalfe for a burglary committed shortly after he was released from prison.

Metcalfe, 25, had 82 previous convictions, including several burglaries, but has been released early from four previous prison sentences

Judge Ashurst hit out at the change in the law that means judges can no longer order re-offenders to complete their previous sentences.

He jailed Metcalfe for three and a half years for the new offence, but warned that it was up to the Ministry of Justice and the Parole Board to decide how much time he would actually serve.

In the past six years, Metcalfe has served four prison sentences totalling six years and ten months, but because he has been released on prison licence partway through each sentence, he has also committed a string of offences, York Crown Court heard.

The judge said: “This case does highlight how a change in the law has very much frustrated the efforts of the courts to sentence appropriately.

“This is partially due to the abolition of the power of the courts to deal with offenders who commit offences when they have been released on licence.

“It (prison recall) has now become simply an administrative finding which generally gives a maximum sentence of 28 days.”

Under “prison recall”, the Parole Board can send someone back to prison if they break their prison licence conditions, including by committing a new offence.

Previously judges could order those who reoffend after being released partway through a sentence to serve the remainder of that sentence as well as a new sentence for their new offence. But now they can only give the new sentence.

The judge told Metcalfe: “It is obvious, I am afraid, you are someone who cannot be trusted when you are released.”

Metcalfe, of no fixed address, admitted burgling a house in Doriam Drive, Huntington, on May 6.

His barrister Chris Dunn said it was a “tragic” case because Metcalfe couldn’t control his drug and alcohol use and had got to a stage where he was more comfortable in prison than out of it.

- A government spokeswoman said a bill currently before Parliament would change the way those who regularly offend on prison licence are dealt with.

Thomas Metcalfe's jail sentences

November 2008: Jailed for 16 months of handling stolen goods and a commercial burglary. Released partway through sentence.

July 2010: Jailed for 20 months for aggravated car snatching and handling stolen goods. Released partway through the sentence.

May 2012: Jailed for 34 months for handling stolen goods and driving offences.

22 April, 2013: Released on prison licence.

29 April 2013: Committed attempted burglary.

19 July 2013: Jailed for 12 months. Judge at York Crown Court unable to make him serve the remainder of his 2012 sentence.

26 November 2013: Released on prison licence.

20 March 2014: Returned to prison for 28 days for breaching prison licence.

23 April 2014: Released on prison licence.

25 April 2014: Ordered back to prison for breaching licence conditions but went on the run.

6 May 2014. Commits Huntington burglary.

20 May 2014: Arrested after a public manhunt and kept in custody.

17 July 2014: Jailed for three and a half years.