A GO-kart centre manager has been given six month to save up and repay most of the money he stole or face a prison sentence.

Gareth Smith pocketed almost £6,000 instead of putting it in the safe at Stockton's TeamSport Go Karting centre.

The 37-year-old was caught on CCTV in the office where the safe is located on the days that the money went missing.

Initially, he agreed to pay back the money when his thefts came to light but Teesside Crown Court heard none of it had been forthcoming.

Jenny Haigh, prosecuting, said an investigation was launched in early December when the firm's head office contacted the area manger concerned that more than £4,000 had failed to be banked properly.

And within days another £1,848 had disappeared from the company's safe.

Miss Haigh told the hearing how the business said the sum was significant as they invested in new tracks, health and safety and employees, and would take two weeks of good earnings to recover.

Smith, of Front Street, Ingleton, near Darlington, admitted the theft of the cash at magistrates court.

His defence barrister, Michele Turner, said Smith was now back living with his parents while to attempted to save up the cash to replace the money he stole.

She said a new job in car sales was on hold but "he believes that's still open to him" once he is able to take part in the training which has been on hold since the Covid outbreak.

She added: "I'm pleased to confirm that the defendant has been working with DHL on a temporary basis in an attempt to make recompense."

Judge Paul Watson QC heard that Smith had managed to save £1,000 from his work as a delivery driver.

"It's a start," he said. "But it's nowhere near what I would like to make by way of compensation order that is closer to £3,500.

"I have in mind to defer the sentence until November and I will make it clear that if he is able to save up a substantial amount, it will make a difference as to whether the sentence I have to impose for this theft, which is in a high degree of trust, is suspended or not.

"You know this was a series of thefts on three occasions over a two month period."

Smith will return to court in November to learn his fate when he appears before the same judge.