A DRIVER who smashed his car into a brick before lying to the police claiming it had been stolen, along with the ashes of his child, has narrowly avoided prison.

An officer investigating Ashley Rafferty's lies felt he was being 'led up the garden path' but spent hours trying to trace the alleged driver and the missing urn.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the 35-year-old was spotted running away from the scene in Hartlepool on Boxing Day morning while he was bare-chested and wearing tracksuit bottoms.

Emma Atkinson, prosecuting, said the householder was awoken by a load noise and when looked out the window she saw the eight foot wall had been destroyed and a badly-damaged blue Ford Fiesta had been abandoned in the garden on Eskdale Road.

She said the crash was reported to police and about half an hour later the defendant also contacted the police to report his car had been stolen after his drink had been spiked at a party in his home.

"He told the officer that a PlayStation 3 was missing and also a safe that he kept in the bedroom and he had claimed that the safe contained the ashes of his deceased young son," she added.

"A statement was taken from the defendant but the officer had some concerns about the truthfulness of his account and made a point of highlighting that he understood the warning that he would be liable for prosecution if he wilfully stated to be false or untrue."

Miss Atkinson said before the alleged burglary took place Rafferty had invited a group of males into his home for a party, one of the men he described as be called 'lamppost', who was seven foot tall and of slim build.

The defendant said someone must have taken his house key before leaving the party and then returning later to steal the car, the PlayStation 3 and the safe containing his son's ashes.

Cleveland Police took the claim seriously and even issued a press appeal for the return of the ashes, which were actually the remains of a blanket, a cuddly toy and a hat he had burned as a keepsake, Miss Atkinson added.

Scene of crime officers took a DNA swab from the Ford Fiesta's deployed airbag and identified the defendant as the driver and the urn was recovered from his home.

Rafferty, of Pardon Street, Hartlepool, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice, driving without a licence, driving without insurance and dangerous driving.

Ben Pegman, in mitigation, said his client had suffered significant mental health issues and had made attempts on his life.

Judge Howard Crowson sentenced to 18 months in custody, suspended for 12 months. He said: "You claimed quite falsely, perhaps to get the sympathy of the investigating officer that you had lost the ashes of your baby, who had died tragically of cot-death syndrome."

Rafferty was also banned from driving for 18 months.

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