A COUNTY Durham man who sent messages to the ex-partner of a man he met in prison has been jailed for perverting the course of justice.

Michael Bannister, from Bishop Auckland, agreed to send messages to a woman after befriending her ex-partner in Durham Prison.

Contacting the woman on Facebook in February, the 41-year-old urged her to drop domestic abuse charges against Steven Brooks.

Durham Crown Court heard Bannister, whose previous convictions include drug offences, shop lifting and theft, had been asked to send the messages by Mr Brooks.

Jonathan Walker, prosecuting said Bannister sent a series of messages telling the woman to go to the police to "sort it out", telling her Brooks was "in tears" because he still loved her.

The court heard she responded by calling him an idiot and to a later message told him she thought he was threatening her.

Bannister was arrested on March 3 and admitted to a charge of perverting the course of justice in April.

Amrit Jandoo, mitigating, said: "He was moved to befriend this man in custody. He had never met him before and didn't know the woman but he heard his plight and felt sorry for him and took the foolish decision to assist him.

"He knows that was a very serious action to take upon himself. He might think he was doing Mr Brooks a favour but he hadn't appreciated the full way in which this court treated it. He has expressed deep regret for sending the messages."

Sentencing him to a 12-month custodial sentence, Judge Jonathan Carroll said: "You are no stranger to prison and the court system and you know justice depends on victims having free access to courts,

"The moment people start trying to interfere with justice that cannot be tolerated and is always treated as significant and serious and always results in a custodial sentence."

Referring to the messages that were sent, he added: "That was none of your business. You can't have known the truth of the matter and you should have left well alone.

"I do not accept that you were naive. With your history you know how the court process works."

Bannister, who apologised to the court, is due for release as he has been in custody for more than seven months awaiting sentence.