A YOUNG gardener took out a loan from a customer to help to get his fledgling business off the ground, a court was told.

But it was only when Declan Andrew Ardle failed to repay any of the money, several months later, that the lender reported it to police.

Durham Crown Court heard that Ardle loaned £25,000 from the elderly widower, for whom he had done some work on the driveway of his home in Ouston, near Chester-le-Street, between March 4 and May 13, 2015.

Victoria Lamballe, prosecuting, said Ardle asked for the loan for his relatively recently begun garden services business.

Miss Lamballe said the 76-year-old lender thought he would soon start to receive repayments, but nothing materialised.

It was in September that year that the victim went to Chester-le-Street Police Station and reported the situation, having remained fully out of pocket.

Ardle was arrested and interviewed, and initially made no response, but subsequently told police that it had been, “a gentlemen’s agreement” with no specific period for repayment

The 27-year-old defendant, of Kell Crescent, Sherburn Hill, near Durham, denied a charge of fraud by false representation.

But, on the day of his scheduled trial, last month, he admitted the fraud, on the basis that he used £15,000 to buy a vehicle and tools for the business, but the remaining £10,000 was for other expenditure.

Ardle claimed that due to “climatic conditions” and competition, the business failed to succeed and he had been unable to make repayments.

Despite the bad weather in the months leading up to the scheduled trial, however, he had been able to raise £10,000 from savings to repay the victim, which he did late last month.

Miss Lamballe said the victim felt he had been taken advantage of, and described it as “despicable”, destroying his faith in human nature.

He had also been unable to go on a planned holiday due to Ardle’s tardy response.

The court heard the victim was also defrauded by a second loanee, a 48-year-old Birtley man, who failed to repay anything, leaving the widower a further £12,500 out of pocket

He admitted a single count of fraud and was given a 21-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, at the court in April.

Peter Walsh, in mitigation for Ardle, said unlike his client, that defendant had failed to repay any of the money.

Recorder Eric Elliott said his hands were effectively tied by the outcome in the other case.

Addressing Ardle, he said: “You deliberately targeted an elderly gentleman and deprived him of his hard earned savings.

“As he put it, it was a ‘despicable’ offence and I hope you feel thoroughly ashamed of yourself.”

Imposing a 15-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, Recorder Elliott put in place a restraining order, forbidding the defendant from contacting the victim, “until further order”.