A CUSTOMER behaving “bizarrely” in a village store invited a lone shop assistant to ring the police if he produced a knife, a court heard.

James Stobbart took a drink from an orange juice container after entering McColl’s in West Auckland, early on the afternoon of March 28.

He approached the assistant and said: “Excuse me, will you ring the police if I get a knife out?”

Durham Crown Court was told the shocked shop worker told him she would not if he was in the premises.

Stobbart replied: “How about now?”, producing a small knife from his pocket.

He was told it would not be worth it, as there was no money in the till, even though this was not true.

Paul Cross, prosecuting, said Stobbart backed down, put the knife away and wandered round the shop.

Although he remained placid the assistant feared his mood might change.

She went into a rear office and rang for the police, while observing Stobbart on cctv picking up several items before leaving the shop.

The assistant and a colleague, who had been on a break, went out and watched as he walked down the street, where police arriving in response to the call, recognised him from the description given and arrested Stobbart.

A potato knife and the stolen goods, worth £6.64, were recovered from him.

Stobbart explained he was cold and trying to go home to Chester-le-Street, but his bus pass was not working.

The defendant, 23, of South Burns, was charged with robbery, but that was not proceeded with after he admitted theft and possessing a knife in public.

Andrew Finlay, mitigating, said Stobbart, who has no previous convictions, spent seven-and-a-half weeks in custody after his arrest.

Mr Finlay said a psychiatric report outlined he has a mental health disorder and learning difficulties.

“He was mentally ill, but he wasn’t able to get proper help and that’s what drove him to commit this offence.”

Judge James Adkin told Stobbart his “bizarre” behaviour shocked the shop staff.

But he said: “You are a rather troubled young man and, it seems to me, you have learned your lesson from your time in custody.”

He imposed a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, with a four-month 7pm to 7am home curfew and 30 probation rehabilitation activity days.