A 64-year-old who pointed a replica gun at his building society branch manager as a “joke” has avoided prison.

Christopher Wardell, of Main Street, Burdrop, near Banbury, admitted possessing an imitation firearm in a public place at Oxford Crown Court.

Wardell brandished the pistol during a meeting with account manager Leanne Dalby at the Nationwide in Banbury on February 1.

The court heard not only was Wardell a regular customer at the branch, he had no previous convictions.

Jane Brady, prosecuting, said: “He said ‘do you want to see something cool?’ “‘Do you have CCTV in the room?’ She said no there wasn’t.

“He took out of his bag a handgun and pointed it at Leanne.”

Ms Brady said: “All she could think about was this man was going to kill her.

“She said ‘I hope it is not real.’ He said: ‘No, it is not’ and put it in the bag.”

Wardell got the gun out again and played with it on Ms Dalby’s desk as she was on the phone, before putting it away.

Ms Brady added: “She states throughout the whole incident she felt fearful for her life.”

Ms Dalby called the police and Wardell was arrested.

The act was described as a “bizarre joke” by Judge Mary Jane Mowat, but there was no explanation in court of why he did it other than he thought it would be funny.

Daren Samat, defending, said: “Of course he acknowledges it was inappropriate.

“A joke perhaps that went too far. He had been a regular customer of theirs.”

Mr Samat added: “He accepts there would have been knock-on effects.

“He thought that he was being amusing when in fact the contrary was true.”

Judge Mowat said Wardell’s actions were “criminally stupid” and said: “It is a very bizarre story.”

She told Wardell: “This was nevertheless a very frightening incident for Leanne Dalby. I hope the defendant now realises you cannot joke with an imitation firearm – especially in a bank.

“You saw it as a joke. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of it and she understandably was very frightened about what you were doing.

“She dealt with it extremely sensibly and level-headedly and she is to be commended for that.

“But you did, I think, see it is a bizarre joke and did not intend the effect it had.”

Wardell was given a 12-month community order and told to pay £100 court costs within 28 days. He was also ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work.

A not-guilty verdict was entered on a charge of possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, which had been denied by Wardell.