A MAN who climbed a tree believing he was being pursued by witches assaulted a police officer with a spade during a six-hour stand-off, a court heard today.

On December 17 last year, a member of public called police after seeing an “intoxicated” man in a tree at Darlington’s Tom Raine Court “shouting, swearing and making a nuisance of himself”.

Darlington magistrates heard that officers arriving at the scene found 46-year-old Darlington man Jeffrey Macmaster in the tree, clutching a spade.

Alan Davison, prosecuting, said Macmaster verbally abused police and accused them of being witches.

He added: “He had a spade with him at the time and was gesturing with it at the police. He then started to kick the ladder police had mounted against the tree and threw the spade towards one of the officers. It hit the ladder and bounced off onto the acting sergeant’s head.”

The officer was left with a one-inch cut to the head after being hit by the handle of the spade.

Macmaster, of Whessoe Road, eventually climbed down from the tree and told officers he had been hiding there after being attacked by witches.

Darren Brown, mitigating, said Macmaster was a reformed heroin addict who had turned to drink as a substitute.

He said: “This incident has highlighted the fact that Mr Macmaster has mental health issues. He did believe witches were after him that day and he was defending himself from them.

"A referral has been made to a psychosis team. He does have quite a past but I would say he is now taking pro-active steps to address all his issues and turn himself around.

“He is working with multiple agencies in the area and has a lot of involvement with services and he is doing well with them and has reduced his alcohol intake. He accepts his offending but says it is part of his alcohol and drug taking.”

Macmaster pleaded guilty to assaulting a constable in the execution of their duty. He also pleaded guilty to five separate counts of theft from a shop. He was handed a one year prison sentence, suspended for two years.