A businessman convicted of dangerous driving after refusing to stop for police was told he escaped an immediate prison sentence, “by a hair’s breadth".

Shahbaz Ali was estimated to have reached speeds of between 120 and 130-miles per hour in his BMW M3 on the A1(M) in County Durham as he fled from police on November 13, last year.

Durham Crown Court heard that such was the speed and manner of his driving, on the outside lane of the northbound carriageway, near Chester-le-Street, that police decided it was unsafe to continue to try to pursue his vehicle.

The court was told officers later visited Shahbaz’s home address, in Capesthorne Road, Washington, where they found the car parked outside, with a still hot engine.

Ali, who denied he had been driving, refused a request to provide a breath specimen.

Read more: BMW driven in chase with police from Durham found outside address in Washington

He claimed that he had other sets of keys for the car, which were available for use among staff at one of his family’s convenience stores.

The court heard that earlier that evening police attended a report of an incident at a takeaway food restaurant owned by the defendant, near Durham city centre.

As officers reached the scene, in Claypath, Ali was just pulling away and he was asked to pull over further up the road where it was less busy.

But the court heard he drove away, sparking the initial pursuit, eventually abandoned by police.

Appearing at a plea hearing at the court in early August, the 36-year-old defendant denied charges of dangerous driving, between Durham and Washington, and failing to provide a specimen for analysis.

Ali stood trial at the court earlier this week, where he maintained his account given to police at the time, but he was convicted on both counts on unanimous jury verdicts.

He appeared for sentence back at the court where Judge James Adkin told his counsel, Jennifer Coxon: “This was a really strong case against him and he fought a really stupid case and told a lot of lies.”

Read more: Teenage Durham dangerous driver given six months to stay out of trouble

Miss Coxon said he had felt he was “too far down the road” to change his version of events.

She said the defendant had been to drop off items at one of his Durham premises where there was, “an incident” after which he just, “put his foot down”.

Miss Coxon said: “He understands he’s been found guilty and needs to be sentenced accordingly.

“He’s from a well-educated, well-respected, caring family.

“He’s obviously had a lot of strain with running the business and he fully understands he’s at risk of a custodial sentence today.”

But she said that would have an impact on his family, particularly his three children, and while the businesses would continue to operate, it would put extra strain on other family members in his absence.

Miss Coxon added that the defendant has two “old convictions” and has, “grown up a lot” since then.

Judge Adkin told Ali he drove on the A1(M), “as if you were driving on a race track. It was very dangerous.

“The harm was the imminent risk to other road users.”

Although Ali claimed he did not have a drink until he reached home, Judge Adkin told him he was sure he had a drink prior to that.

“You fought the case and lost against very strong evidence.

“The vast majority of those who drive dangerously in a police chase go to prison.

“It wasn’t much of a chase because police abandoned it on safety grounds.”

He said although on one hand “it demands custody”, he accepted a prison sentence would have a detrimental effect on the defendant’s family.

“Generally speaking you are a law-abiding man running a number of businesses, contributing to society, so, just, by a hair’s breadth, I have decided not to send you to prison today.”

Imposing a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years, he ordered Ali to undergo 220 hours’ of unpaid work and take part in 30-probation run rehabilitation activity days, specifically to address his drinking.

The judge also banned Ali from driving for two years and ordered him to pay £2,000 costs of the case, within two months.

He warned Ali if there was any failure to complete the unpaid work or rehabilitation activity days he would be sent to prison.

Read next:

               Four County Durham criminals hauled before Durham Crown Court last week

               County Durham man caused head-on collision after taking traffic island in wrong direction

               Driver in County Durham police chase swerved to avoid bin wagon

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