THE sentence of a rapist who subjected a young woman to a horrifying attack on a path near a cemetery has been delayed.

Sitting at Durham Crown Court yesterday, Judge Christopher Prince, said he could not sentence Stephen Sanderson until he had considered whether or not he could impose a life sentence.

The 28-year-old previosuly admitted raping his victim on the footpath between Bishop Auckland Town Cemetery, off South Church Road, and Brack's Fram, in Bishop Auckland.

At a previous hearing magistrates heard Sanderson approached the teenager from behind before “brandishing a knife”, taking her phone, handcuffing her and committing the “stranger rape”.

Sanderson then took off and discarded the cuffs before making off in an opposite direction after the incident shortly after 8pm on Saturday, October 20.

The family attended court yesterday expecting Sanderson to be sentenced.

However, addressing the victim's mother, who broke down, Judge Prince said he would not be able to give her a sentence.

"I have been thinking about this a great deal," he said. "The whole family will be very eager that this case is finally dealt with."

He added: "It's unusual that courts consider imposing a life sentence where a life sentence is not mandatory but in this case I must consider a life sentence and I will be considering a life sentence very carefully."

Judge Prince said the offence was "every person's nightmare" but had come "out of the blue" for Sanderson who had no previous history of sexual offending against him.

A psychiatric report also suggested that while Sanderson, of Wesley Street, in Coundon Grange, near Bishop Auckland, could pose a future risk; he had no recollection of the incident itself, which Judge Prince said could be "genuine".

"I would like to obtain a further psychiatric report," he said.

Kitty Colley, for Sanderson, said she did not dispute Sanderson could be classed as "dangerous" but would like a further report to be prepared to assess Sanderson's level of intelligence and whether he had a learning disability rather than just learning difficulties.

Judge Prince granted the request and called for the further reports.

He added: "The question is can you predict for how long this man will remain dangerous?"

Judge Prince reassured the victim's mother telling her she should feel no sense of guilt for the incident and apologised that she could not give her daughter a sentence at the moment but that he needed time to make sure justice was done properly.

Sanderson, who appeared from HMP Durham by video link, is expected to be sentence on April 5, at 10am.

He remains remanded in custody until that date and will appear by video link again.