A MAN who carried out a fraction of a 240-hour community punishment order was yesterday locked up by a judge who told him: "You've been swinging the lead."

Paul Arnett did only seven-and-a-half hours unpaid work for the community after he was sentenced more than a year ago for theft and deception.

He told a court yesterday that, shortly after he was given the order last March, he had an accident at work and was unable to do any more.

But the Recorder of Middlesbrough, Judge Peter Fox, QC, called for Arnett's medical reports and when they showed no sign of the alleged injury, he locked him up.

Arnett, 40, was told by Judge Fox last year that the community punishment order was a direct alternative to prison and he would be jailed for 15 months if he failed to do it.

Yesterday, after he admitted breaching the order, Arnett was locked up for ten months after, Peter Sabiston, mitigating, argued he had not been in trouble since and was now free of drugs.

Judge Fox told him: "Well, Paul Arnett, it has eventually caught up with you, but it has taken a bit of time.

"You have been swinging the lead, but I don't hold that against you. My job is to sentence you for the original offending in July 2003.

"I told you it would be 15 months if you didn't do the work. Mr Sabiston seeks to persuade me to reduce that because you have not been in trouble since and you are drug-free.

"They are good points and I reduce 15 months by a third."

Arnett, of Cowper Road, Tilery, near Stockton, had admitted stealing a Ford Transit van, four charges of obtaining property by deception and one of making off without payment and was originally sentenced on March 11 last year.

He claimed previous leg and hip injuries were made worse by an accident shortly afterwards and was declared unfit to work by his doctor.

But Judge Fox ruled: "I take the view that he has been swinging the lead, there has not been a further accident, there is no further injury and it is a lot of poppycock."

Harvey Murray, prosecuting, told the court that the van was stolen from JCM shopfitters four days after he started work there, in July 2003.

Arnett was given a delivery job to Bristol but never turned up, and used a company fuel card on four occasions to fill vehicles. He accepted he had stolen the van, but claimed a thief had taken it from him.