AN incompetent tradesman who has admitted misleading customers has been challenged to raise sufficient funds to pay them all back by later this year.

Defendant Darren Paterson was told a prison sentence remains “upper most” in the court’s mind, but if he can compensate his victims, “it may be a persuasive factor” in him seeking to avoid a custodial outcome.

The challenge was issued by a judge at Durham Crown Court where the builder admitted four counts of conducting misleading business practices and a single fraud charge, last month.

On Paterson’s return to court for the listed sentencing hearing in the case, Judge Ray Singh inquired what was the total amount by which customers were left out of pocket.

Lewis Kerr, for the defendant, said the loss incurred amounted to £26,172, but he was unsure if his client would be able to pay it all off in the next six months.

The judge then told Paterson: “There’s no promises on what sentences I have in mind.

“You know custody is upper most in my mind, but, of course, reparation is also upper most in my mind.

“How quickly can you get that amount together?”

Paterson responded: “If your honour would allow me to pay back that amount in six months, I think it would be possible.”

Judge Singh said the complainants would probably prefer to be compensated, rather than see the defendant go to prison with no money being paid back.

The judge told one of the victims in the case, who was watching the hearing remotely: “He’s going to have to raise the money from somewhere.

“There has to be direct punishment for his offending, but I would like him to compensate you and the other victims in this case.”

Addressing Paterson, the judge said: “I will defer your sentence for six months and you will appear back here later this year, but with two conditions.

“One is that there is no further offending on your part.”

But he said the second condition was that Paterson must attend court with evidence he has the £26,172 to make the repayment, by way of some form of bank order.

“You will still have to be sentenced, so it’s not a ‘get out of jail’ card, but it’s a persuasive factor if that compensation is payable.”

Paterson, 48, of Jack Lawson Terrace, Wheatley Hill, was bailed to return to court on November 10.

Four further charges of fraud against Paterson are expected to be left to lie on the file at that hearing.