A THUG who threatened to stab a car wash boss and torch his business after the wheels on his Jaguar were damaged has walked free from court.

Peter Owens, 42, demanded £1,000 from the Stockton businessman during a bitter dispute which his barrister admitted had "gone beyond the remit".

Nigel Soppitt, mitigating, told Teesside Crown Court today (Monday, January 14) that Owens, of Sydenham Road, Hartlepool, had "behaved in an unsavoury fashion".

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But he said the jobless father was suffering from mental health problems at the time, and is affected by a catalogue of physical ailments.

Owens was found guilty of two charges of blackmail after a trial last month, and was given an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

The judge, Recorder David Dobbin, also imposed 18 months of Probation Service supervision and ordered Owens to seek help with anger management.

Mr Soppitt earlier told the court: "It could be construed that he had a legitimate grievance and he had not pursued that through the proper channels.

"Having said that, these facts are far from trivial. It must have been concerning from the complainant's point of view. He made unacceptable threats."

Mr Recorder Dobbin told Owens - who has previous convictions for dishonesty and violence: "These were serious matters caused the complainant a good deal of worry and concern . . . there is no doubt in my mind that these were serious threats."

The car wash operator said Owens told him he would be "stabbed up" if he was not compensated, and warned a colleague he would set fire to the business.

The jury cleared him of a third charge - of threatening to have the businessman kneecapped during the 2011 dispute - after a three-day trial.

Owens denied making any physical threats, but told the court that he did demand compensation for the alloy wheels and submitted a genuine claim.