TWO men described as "otherwise decent and hard-working" dodged prison today (Tuesday, February 26) for their part in a plot to sell cocaine.

A judge told Lee Nicholson, 36, and Philip Armstrong, 34, that he was taking "an exceptional course" in sparing them jail.

The pair got involved in supplying the Class A drug after getting addicted to it, Teesside Crown Court was told.

Loading article content

Both men - who have jobs and young families - had battled through personal problems, said Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC.

Since their arrests two years ago, they have kicked their habits, found work and stayed out of trouble, their barristers said.

The judge said the delay in the case reaching court - and them living in fear of prison - counted as exceptional circumstances.

Armstrong, from Guisborough, east Cleveland, and Nicholson, from Leeds, were given two-year suspended jail terms.

They were also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work, and told by the judge: "This is an exceptional case."

He said: "In many respects, the delay has worked to your advantage. Had you come before the courts two months ago, I could not have suspended a two-year sentence. To that end, you have got lucky.

"But I am making you a promise - if you are back before me in the next two years, you will be locked up."

Prosecutor Daid Crook told the court how their involvement in drugs was uncovered when Armstrong was arrested during an argument.

After police found cocaine on him, they searched his home, found more, and discovered text messages to and from Nicholson.

Tony Hawks, for Nicholson, of Springfield Close, said he had racked up debts of £30,000 and began selling drugs to make money.

He said: "He has learned his lesson and is not likely to do it again. He is in a relationship and is working."

Graham Brown, for Armstrong, of Park Lane, Guisborough, added: "It has been unremitting pressure for two-plus years.

"This man has done everything he can to alter the direction he took through very, very ad decisions."

The pair, who admitted conspiracy to supply Class A drugs at an earlier hearing, arrived at court with holdalls.

Judge Bourne-Arton told them: "You can thank your lawyers because they have persuaded me to this exceptional course."

More Crime News