A TEENAGER who briefly supplied cocaine last summer, having run up debts using the drug himself, was told he was lucky not to be going straight into custody.

District Judge Michael Wheeler, sitting as a crown court recorder, made the comment after passing a two-year sentence in a young offenders’ institution, suspended for 18-months, on defendant Lewis Paul Shields.

Eighteen-year-old Shields came before a court for the first time to answer a charge of possessing a class A drug with intent to supply.

He admitted the single count appearing before magistrates last month and the case was sent to Durham Crown Court as there was insufficient sentencing power for such an offence at the lower court.

Victoria Lamballe, prosecuting, told the sentencing hearing that Shields, of Cowshill, Weardale, came to police attention after a report was received of suspected drug dealing in the vicinity of a public car park in Arthur Street, Crook, last July.

Officers on surveillance were drawn to a blue Volkswagen Golf with Shields sitting in the front passenger seat, with a driver alongside.

The car was searched and a carrier bag was found under the passenger seat containing a box in which 49g of cocaine was found, with a street sale value of £1,200.

Miss Lamballe said police also recovered £432 in cash, a single set of scales, plus a number of small clear bags.

Both Golf occupants were arrested, but, after initial questions, no further action was taken against the driver.

Shields admitted he was selling cocaine at £40 per half gram and £80 per gram.

A forfeiture order was made for the seized £432.

Miss Lamballe said messages on Shields’ seized phone were also indicative of him dealing cocaine, but only for the previous few days.

Paul Currer, mitigating, said upto this conviction, Shields had gone offence-free, and his offending began less than a fortnight before his arrest.

Mr Currer said the defendant became “lured into” using drugs, but, having acquired an addiction to cocaine, began to rack up debts. He felt it was unfair to turn to his family for support.

He added that as a previously un-convicted 18-year-old, “naïve” compared with most inmates, he would struggle mixing with more sophisticated offenders in a custodial setting.

Recorder Wheeler said despite his young age, the defendant knew what he was doing, and it was for his own financial gain.

But he added that Shields had been “open and honest” with police as to his activities, and agreed that he had, to some extent, been “naïve”.

Passing the suspended sentence, the recorder also ordered him to be subject of probation supervision for a year, during which he must attend 25 rehabilitation activity days and perform 150-hours’ unpaid work.

Shields is also subject to a three-month 8pm to 6am home curfew.

Recorder Wheeler told him: “You are lucky to have received the sentence you have. Any breaches, and you are likely to be locked up.”