A YOUNG driver admitted “panicking” when he came to the attention of police who were observing an industrial estate at night to check for potential fuel thefts.

Robert Woodcock accelerated away from police and sparks flew as the damaged exhaust on his Jeep Cherokee trailed along the road on South Church Industrial Estate, Bishop Auckland, in the early hours of March 24.

Durham Crown Court was told the 21-year-old defendant drove at 60-mph on 30-limit stretches of road, and 70 in 40 zones, while he negotiated three roundabouts in the wrong direction on the A688 at Bishop and West Auckland, in an attempt to shake off his police pursuers.

Andrew Finlay, said at one stage as Woodcock drove in more rural areas he turned off the lights on his vehicle and at times deliberately caused dust and dirt fo fly to hinder the police.

He turned off the A688 onto a narrow country lane, but lost control at the end of it and ended in a ditch.

Mr Finlay said Woodcock was in the vehicle with a passenger and still seemed to be attempting to re-start the engine so a police officer drew a taser stun gun and pointed it in his direction, persuading him to give up any further attempt to continue the chase.

The defendant made admissions over the manner of his driving when interviewed.

Woodcock, of Oxford Street, Bishop Auckland, admitted dangerous driving, no insurance and driving other than in accordance with the licence.

Chris Baker, in mitigation, said the defendant, who is of previous good character, made full admissions and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

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“He instructs me he panicked on seeing the police car and was, effectively, trying to escape being arrested.

“He accepted he was not qualified and had no insurance, but, thankfully, no injuries were caused.”

Mr Baker said the defendant, who was diagnosed with ADHD when at school, had a traumatic upbringing, but has found employment and is a “hard worker”.

“It’s clear there’s a relatively low risk of him re-offending.”

Judge James Adkin told Woodcock he was, “extremely fortunate” no-one was coming in the opposite direction when he performed some of his manoeuvres at roundabouts.

“The harm is the risk of injury to police or other road users and members of the public.”

But he said he accepts the defendant is still young, with no previous brushes with the law and made full admissions.

Judge Adkin imposed an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years and ordered Woodcock to undergo 30-probation supervised rehabilitation activity days.

He also made him subject of a five-month, 7pm to 7am electronically-monitored curfew at an address in Curlew Way, Ferryhill.

Woodcock was also banned from driving for a year.

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