A DRIVER who hurtled around the streets of Bolton at up to 96mph has been spared a jail sentence after a judge told him he had made "some silly decisions".

Luke Martin, who was driving a stolen car, panicked when he realised police were following him and led them on a 20 minute chase through the town.

His driving was so dangerous that police in cars eventually called off the pursuit, leaving the helicopter to track 22-year-old Martin to the Tesco store at Middlebrook, where he abandoned the vehicle.

Rob Hall, prosecuting, told how Martin was seen by police driving a Ford Kuga, which had cloned number plates, in the Bolton town centre area just before 10pm on March 20.

The vehicle had been stolen in a burglary at a home in Mersey Road, Sale on March 7.

"When officers put on their emergency lights and two tone horns this defendant's response was to drive away from them at speed and in a dangerous manner," said Mr Hall.

"The defendant drives on the wrong side of the road, overtakes in front of oncoming vehicles, travels at a speed up to 96mph in a 30mph limit and then drives through red lights, avoiding vehicles that were using that crossing at the time.

"He then performs a u-turn while being pursued by the police, his car swerves through other vehicles on the road and then, again, goes onto the wrong side of the road travelling at 90mph in a residential area.

"Such was the behaviour of the defendant and his driving that the police helicopter, in effect, called off the pursuit because of the potential danger to other road users.

"It is quite clear the defendant showed a blatant disregard for the safety of others."

Martin continued driving dangerously, at one point mounting the pavement to get past traffic queuing at a junction, before he eventually abandoned the car and ran into Tesco, attempting to hide.

When arrested he said that he had bought the car, worth £15,000, for £400 and knew it was stolen.

Martin, of Thorpe Street, Halliwell, pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicle taking with dangerous driving and having no insurance. He has no previous convictions.

Kimberley Morton, defending, described Martin as "immature".

"He is quite embarrassed about what has happened," she added.

Miss Morton revealed that Martin had been working but had lost his training position through no fault of his own and sold his own car, buying the Kuga instead.

Sentencing Martin to a community order for two years, Judge Timothy Stead said: "Usually, in this court, those who take flight from police when lights are flashing and drive dangerously through the suburbs go straight to prison. That's a near guarantee if anybody is injured or there is serious damage to property.

"Quite astonishingly, on Halliwell Road, that didn't happen. It really is amazing."

Martin was ordered to undertake 150 hours of unpaid work, participate in 25 days of rehabilitation activities and was banned from driving for two years.

The judge told him: "I do hope, if only for the sake of your family, that you are sorry and ashamed of what brings you here.

"I don't think you are a bad person at all — you took some very silly decisions and the ultimate one was a dangerous decision.

"I am not going to stigmatise you with a prison sentence."