A “LEADING light” in the community has been sent to prison for breaching a suspended sentence banning her from driving.

Police officers who pulled over Tracey Finney recognised the 46-year-old after becoming familiar with her through her extensive work with the Neighbourhood Watch scheme.

Finney, of Sutherland Place, Durham, became a prominent figure in the area as a volunteer at the Pelaw View Community Centre set up to revitalise the deprived Sherburn Road Estate.

Her work was recognised at the House of Lords in 2013 when she was invited to speak at the Community Impact Awards ceremony held in Parliament that year.

However, her fall from grace came when she was disqualified from driving in April this year.

She was also handed an 18-week prison sentence, suspended for 24 months.

Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court heard this week that Finney got behind the wheel of a Mercedes B-Class on October 27 and was stopped as she drove along Sherburn Road, just metres from her home in Gilesgate Moor.

She cried in court as her solicitor described her as an “exemplary character” and revealed she was facing a turbulent time as the sole carer for her parents and her husband, who has suffered a stroke. John Davison said: “It’s an extremely unusual situation.

“She’s a leading light in the local Neighbourhood Watch scheme.

"She works very hard for various community groups.”

Her solicitor added that the 46-year-old carer and volunteer had recently lost her brother to suicide.

She had also been involved in a car crash as she travelled as a passenger earlier this week, the court heard, and received treatment for whiplash in hospital.

Finney pleaded guilty to driving while disqualified and driving without insurance and the court heard she had got behind the wheel after her daughter rang her to say she was feeling unwell.

After around 15 minutes of deliberation, magistrates agreed to activate Finney’s suspended sentence and sent her to prison for 18 weeks.

The 46-year-old was handed an additionally four-week custodial sentence for driving while disqualified last month.

Upon her release, Finney will be ordered to pay a £115 victim surcharge and £85 in court costs.