A DRIVER who crashed into a road sign and tree late at night before abandoning his car, “concocted a stupid story” to try to evade responsibility, a court was told.

Police on patrol in Stanley received a report of an accident on the A693 roundabout near the Asda store, at about midnight on August 23.

Durham Crown Court was told the officers found an abandoned Ford Focus which appeared to have gone straight over the roundabout, mounted a kerb and hit a diversion sign.

Phillip Morley, prosecuting, said the car appeared to have continued for another 30-metres before hitting a tree.

Inquiries confirmed the occupants fled on foot, and one appeared to have had a cut to the hand, due to the presence of blood on the front passenger side of the car, while the officers could also smell alcohol inside the vehicle.

Mr Morley said at 1.35am the registered keeper of the car, Alec Stuart Harmeston, reported having been robbed the previous evening, in which his car keys were taken after being approached by three males outside the Queen’s Head pub, in Stanley.

A cctv check confirmed there was no robbery and so Harmeston was arrested.

When interviewed he said he had been the driver with two passengers and claimed to have drunk just one pint.

He said he panicked on crashing and accepted fleeing the vehicle with his passengers, one who cut a finger.

Harmeston claimed he did not exceed the speed limit, but as he was unfamiliar with the road, braked too late at the roundabout.

He accepted he lied about the robbery and said once he calmed down he realised it was, “not a good idea”.

The 26-year-old call centre worker, of Parkside Avenue, Blaydon, admitted doing an act intending to pervert the course of justice, dangerous driving and failing to stop at the scene after an accident.

Warren Ridley, for Harmeston, who is of previous good character, said his mother persuaded him to tell police the truth, which he was going to do at the time he was arrested.

Presenting three character testimonials to the court on Harmeston’s behalf, Mr Ridley added: “He fully, accepts his conduct and is remorseful and ashamed at his actions.”

Judge James Adkin told Harmeston he could have left his passengers seriously injured or even killed.

“You, then concocted a stupid story about being robbed, obviously fearing prosecution for dangerous driving or even drink driving.

“At least, when police came to arrest you the next morning you admitted it, and there was no impact on anyone else, but the harm was trying to deflect the police inquiry.”

But he said as he has no previous convictions and is in work he could suspend the 12-month prison sentence for two years, with a one-year driving ban.

Harmeston will be subject to a six-month 7pm to 7am home curfew, during which the judge added: “You can reflect on how close you came to losing your liberty.”