Jailing and ban of lorry driver caught drink-driving on A38 in Devon sparks debate over sentencing policy

A delivery driver was jailed for four months and banned for three years after being caught driving a lorry on the A38 in Devon while more than four times the drink-drive limit. Ex-international rugby player Andrew Allen, of Orchard Lane, Newport, admitted drinking an entire bottle of vodka the night before driving from south Wales to Devon, where he was found by police in a layby near Chudleigh. Allen, who won three caps for Wales in 1990, said he had suffered a meltdown after a reunion with former teammates and downed the vodka on Friday night, April 20, staying up until 3am, the Plymouth Herald[1] reported.

The following morning Allen got up for work as normal, saying he did not feel any effects of the alcohol, and set off for work from his home near Newport at about 10am. However fellow motorists raised the alarm and called 999 when they saw the lorry swerving erratically between lanes at Haldon Hill on the A38 heading towards Plymouth. Allen, 51, was found by police in such a state that an officer had to help him to the patrol car because he was so drunk he could not walk.

Allen tested positive for alcohol and was taken to Charles Cross police station where he underwent another breath test at just after 3pm.

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The case has led to a discussion on social media about the sentencing of professional drivers for serious road traffic offences. The incident came to light after a report on the Kingsbridge Police Facebook page. And when the page reported the sentence, some commented that a life ban from driving would be appropriate.

A statement on the police page said: “He made a mistake. He lost his freedom, his job, his licence, and his family are left at home without him or his income. Don’t make the same mistake.

Drink driving ruins lives.” One commenter said: “Glad he got a custodial sentence, but believe he should have been banned for life!” But others pointed out Allen was suffering from mental health issues, which should be taken into account.

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One said: “Still can’t believe people here are being judge and jury for this man.

Mental health is one of the most common serious illnesses there is, and yet also the most misunderstood and chastised.” Prosecutor Caroline Gates told Plymouth magistrates Allen was found to have 150mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath. The legal limit is 35mg.

Ms Gates said this was “an extraordinarily high reading” adding “we’re very, very lucky that I’m not here to tell you about a serious road traffic accident.”

The delivery lorry on the A38The delivery lorry on the A38

Ms Gates said Allen told police he was “ashamed of himself and was sorry” and had no previous convictions. In mitigation, defence solicitor Andrea Parsons said Allen was “absolutely distraught” at his actions and was “mindful it could’ve been so much worse.”

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She said Allen effectively had a “meltdown” on Friday and had been increasingly suffering mental health issues. Ms Parsons said Allen had taken the “very, very foolish” and by his own admission “crazy decision” to go into work, believing he was fit to drive.

He pulled over the lorry at the Chudleigh stretch of the A38 “feeling very unwell” and with the aim of calling his base and getting another driver to take over. Ms Parsons told magistrates: “This is a man who has never been in trouble in his life”, noting that in recent months he had begun to suffer worsening mental health. She said he had lost a substantial amount of weight and had convinced himself he was suffering from cancer.

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She said he had had a long-time phobia about doctors, which had been confirmed by his wife who sat at the back of the court.

As a result he had refused to seek medical help. The matter had come to a head recently when he had attended a reunion with ex-rugby players. Ms Parsons said: “He is an ex-international rugby player.

He used to play for Wales. At the reunion everybody was commenting on the way he was presenting and were very worried for him.” As a result on the Friday night Allen – a father of three – had drunk “excessively” and made “this dreadful decision to go to work”.

Ms Parsons said Allen’s wife was “very, very concerned for him” adding that he had been driving professionally “for decades” and “never had a penalty point on his licence… nothing until this horrific incident. He is absolutely devastated.”

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A probation officer told magistrates that Allen was an agency driver making a delivery to Tesco. The officer said Allen admitted often coming home and having a couple of beers but on this night had come home where his wife and two of his grown up children were asleep and he drank an entire bottle of vodka.

He headed off to work at 10.45am and did not feel any hangover symptoms. However, the lane deviation alarm went off in his cab “a couple of times” and he pulled over. The probation officer said Allen appeared “very remorseful” and recognised the consequence of his actions.

He noted how Allen’s use of alcohol had increased in recent months, that he have felt “very low” and had begun drinking “secretively”.

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The officer also noted how Allen’s recent reunion with fellow rugby players and “how well everyone else has been doing” may have compounded his negative feelings. The probation officer also highlighted how Allen had suffered number of health issues – including damaged knees which eventually resulted in him being operated on and kept off work – bereavements and mental health issues, such as a fear of cancer. The court heard Allen’s mother died of cancer when he was 18 and had left him “petrified” of the illness.

In additional mitigation, Andrea Parsons said Allen’s wife had “no idea” how low her husband had become and he now appeared a “completely broken man”. She said he was both “stubborn and proud”. She added: “He has kept all of this from those closest to him.

I suspect it’s a relief to him [for it to come out].” She said Allen’s transport manager was “very very shocked” at the news, saying it was “so out of character” and that his co-workers had “no idea” he was suffering problems.

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Newton Abbot News If you live in the Newton Abbot and Kingsteignton area, there’s a Facebook group to share local news and events and discuss the issues – join here[10] After a brief deliberation chairman of the bench, Mark Cockings told Allen he was being jailed for 16 weeks as the case was at the “very top end” of the sentencing guidelines.

He said a custodial sentence was justified due to the seriousness of the offence, the fact that he was driving a “29.7 tonne lorry” on the M5, M4 and A38. He highlighted that Allen was a professional driver and “should be fully aware of the danger of driving” such a vehicle. While he said the bench took in to account Allen’s “obvious remorse” he said “we would be failing in our public duty if we did not meet this offence with a custodial sentence.”

He said they had given him credit for his early guilty plea and previous good character, but had to disqualify him from driving for 164 weeks and ordered him to pay a victim surcharge of GBP115.

As Allen was led from the dock down to the cells, he looked over to where his wife and one of his sons sat and mouthed “sorry… sorry”.

References

  1. ^ Plymouth Herald (www.plymouthherald.co.uk)
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  5. ^ here (www.facebook.com)
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