AN UNEMPLOYED plasterer who performed a sex act on a busy shopping street on a Friday afternoon "put a slur on the town of Darlington", magistrates said.

Michael Gallagher brought shame on himself and his family by taking part in the "lewd and disgusting act" in front of families and dozens of shoppers in the town centre last month, he was told by magistrates at Newton Aycliffe yesterday.

The 28-year-old, of Westmoreland Street, Darlington, pleaded guilty to an offence of outraging public decency and was handed a suspended prison sentence.

His co-accused failed to turn up to court and a warrant was issued for her arrest. The court heard they had been "sex buddies" or "friends with benefits" for some weeks before the incident, which was filmed by members of the public and shared widely on social media.

Alan Davison, prosecuting, said Gallagher had taken six anti-anxiety tablets as self medication and drank several pints and a glass of wine at lunchtime on the day of the offence.

“He and his co-accused were caught on CCTV and on various cameras while Mr Gallagher exposed his penis and performed a sexual act with her at various points on Bondgate that afternoon while in full view of about 20 to 30 passing members of the public.

“He has got a foggy recollection of events,” he said. “He later identified himself from the footage and said he was ashamed of his actions.”

Rory Todd, mitigating for Gallagher, said: “Once he was aware of the footage on social media he surrendered to the police. He is wholly ashamed of his actions. He was very drunk.”

A probation report said Gallagher admitted he had exposed his penis and taken part in the sex act. On the day he had been for a meal with another female and then received a call from the co-defendant asking him to meet her for a drink at a town centre pub.

He had a number of drinks despite not usually drinking much alcohol, the court heard.

Since the incident he had ignored his co-defendant’s messages except for once allowing her to stay when she turned up with the police, with nowhere else to go. The court heard his family was "absolutely appalled" with him.

Chairman of the bench Colin Beadle told him: “It was in our opinion a disgusting and lewd act in a public place. It was 2pm. As far as we are concerned this is a totally unacceptable situation.

"It was a disgusting and lewd act which has disgraced not only yourself and your family but has also put a slur on the town of Darlington. For these reasons we believe the offence has crossed the custody threshold."

Gallagher was jailed for 12 weeks, suspended for 18 months, given an 18 month community order and 100 hours of unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay £85 costs and a £115 victim surcharge.