A MOTOR business operator resorted to an insurance fiddle after being pressured to repay mounting debts.

Leonard Hallimond, 38, was jailed for eight months yesterday after Durham Crown Court heard he received a £21,750 insurance pay-out for a recovery truck he claimed was stolen.

But it emerged the truck, used in Hallimond's business, was in storage at the time.

Ian Graham, prosecuting, said earlier this year Axa insurance company paid out on the vehicle policy, based on Hallimond's theft claim.

It only came to light when the storage company tried to contact Hallimond to pay a bill of £5,000.

Mr Graham said Hallimond could not be contacted, so the company carried out a check and discovered the vehicle had been reported stolen.

Hallimond told police officers he claimed the insurance money as he was being pressured to repay debts to men he refused to name.

Lorraine Mustard, mitigating, said Hallimond had a warehouse in Houghton-le-Spring, on Wearside, and a car repair business in Shotton Colliery, east Durham.

He came under pressure to meet unpaid warehouse rental debts of £80,000.

Four men, "from Newcastle", visited him, telling him "things would happen" if the money was not paid, said Miss Mustard.

She said those men suggested the fraudulent claim.

Mr Graham said the prosecution could neither prove or disprove the defence claim.

Hallimond, who has been living and working recently at the Cross Keys, in Hamsterley, near Bishop Auckland, admitted obtaining by deception.

Judge Peter Armstrong told Hallimond: "The upshot is that the money you obtained has now gone and the insurance company is in dispute with the finance company, who are owed more than £30,000 in respect of that vehicle.

"So, one of the two will lose out to a very large extent.