A SHOPKEEPER was left in fear after three men entered his premises, one clearly in possession of a knife, before another took a bar of chocolate, a court heard.

The 8in knife, with a 4in blade, was seen protruding from Dean Stewart Laing’s waist band as his accomplice picked up the chocolate bar and put it in his coat.

Durham Crown Court was told the owner of Park Road Store, in South Moor, Stanley, felt frightened and asked the men to leave.

Umza Khan, prosecuting said the men returned to the store a short time later and returned the chocolate, but when Laing left the premises he was greeted by police, on arrival after being alerted by the shopkeeper.

Asked if he had a weapon, he denied it, but was searched and the wooden handled steel knife was found in the bottom of his coat pocket.

Miss Khan said he was arrested and placed in a cell at a police station, at 6.20pm on Friday December 20.

A short time later an officer noticed water flowing in a corridor from the custody suite due to a blockage in a toilet pipe in Laing’s cell.

Miss Khan said as it was toilet water a deep clean of the affected area took place, putting the cell out of use on what was likely to be a busy night in the custody suite, as it was, ‘Black Eye Friday’.

When interviewed, Laing admitted causing the blockage by stuffing tissue down the toilet, but he did not respond to questions about the shop knife incident.

In a victim statement read to the court, the shaken shopkeeper said the incident put him in fear as he often works alone at the premises until 11pm and felt vulnerable.

Miss Khan said Laing has a “quite substantial” record featuring 72 offences, including a previous conviction for weapon possession and one for serious violence for which he received a 45-month prison sentence, in 2012.

The defendant, 31, of Edward Terrace, Annfield Plain, admitted possessing a knife in public and causing criminal damage.

It put him in breach of a conditional discharge.

Richard Herrmann, mitigating, said Laing claimed it was unintentional that the knife was seen as he had it in his waist band having been working cash-in-hand at a local scrap yard, where he used it to cut ropes.

Judge James Adkin said: “He wasn’t cutting down ropes in the shop.”

Mr Herrmann responded: “He didn’t realise the fright he did cause and that’s why he returned to the shop.

“It wasn’t his intention to reveal he was in possession of a knife.”

Hr Herrmann added that Laing had been a heroin and diazepam user but is now “stable” on a methadone programme and plans to take advantage of the drug services available to him in prison.

Imposing a 14-month prison sentence, Judge Adkin said whatever the intention, the shopkeeper was caused “serious alarm and distress”.