A MAN who took two young children to a play park after drinking a large amount of vodka has been convicted of child neglect.

Mark Finnigan was slurring his speech and staggering around the playground, in Lanchester, County Durham, and paid no heed when an infant in his charge banged his head and began to scream.

A witness reported him to police after the infant fell twice and Finnigan appeared unconcerned.

Police breathalysed him after he was arrested and found him to be four and a half times over the drink drive limit, although he had not been driving.

The 38-year-old, of Austin Place, South Stanley, pleaded guilty to two charges of child neglect when he appeared before magistrates in Newton Aycliffe yesterday.

The court was told that he took the children to the park but went to a nearby Spar shop with them and bought another bottle of vodka.

Lesley Burgess, prosecuting, said: "The witness said the male had very slurred speech.

"She observed the smaller child fell over in the park. She goes over to see the child as she is aware the male that is looking after them is staggering around.

"She said he simply allowed the child to carry on and play again. The young child fell over and hit his head on one of the roundabouts.

"The child was very upset and distressed and the defendant just said he would be okay. However the witness said she had such concerns that when she observed the male going with the two children to the Spar store she called the police."

Police said that the defendant was unable to speak properly and was unsteady on his feet.

Finnigan told them he was dependant on alcohol and had consumed "a large amount" that morning before going to the park.

Probation officers said Finnigan told them he had drink a quarter of a litre of vodka in the morning and that he had started drinking heavily in 2016 after being unable to cope with a series of bereavements.

An industrial accident, which had left him unable to work after breaking both his legs, had also led to the downward spiral. He was remorseful about the impact his behaviour had on the children and the potential for harm.

Jack Lovell, mitigating on behalf of Finnigan, said he had had many difficulties, was still alcohol dependant but was 'desperate' for help.

Magistrates imposed an 18-month community order along with 12 months of alcohol treatment and a full mental assessment. They also ordered him to pay £85 costs and an £85 victim surcharge.