An incredible story, in every sense of the word –
A doctor who caused a pile-up while over the alcohol limit walked free from court yesterday after claiming he was ‘sleep-driving’. GP Donald Clegg, who drank up to eight pints a day, was almost four times the drink-drive limit when he crashed into three vehicles.
Clegg, 59, claimed he was asleep and in a state of ‘auto-autonomy’ when he got into the Vauxhall Zafira dressed in his dressing gown and slippers after returning home from a restaurant. Witnesses describe him driving ‘perfectly normally’, but he swung out on to the opposite carriageway and clipped two parked cars before smashing into the third in December. A passerby who went to help Clegg had to snap the key out of the ignition to stop him driving away and said he was muttering about going to visit his mother.
What is remarkable about this story is that both the prosecution, and the presiding magistrate, seem to have accepted, without question, or without any apparent medical assessment, his story that his drink driving was purely the result of ‘unconscious’ sleepwalking, rather than the conscious actions of someone who was completely paralytic. The account given by Dr Clegg, and bystanders, is entirely consistent with that of someone so drunk they are barely conscious – so why was this explanation so easily rejected? Drunks do stupid things, like trying to drive off to visit their mother in the middle of the night. Indeed the BBC report that he was
talking incoherently about driving to his mother’s house
The GP claimed the first he knew of the incident was when he woke up in a police cell.
Well, this exactly mirrors the experience of one of my friends, who was arrested for a particularly stupid piece of drink driving (and has not driven since). He was found stumbling about in the road, in the middle of the night, by a passing taxi driver, having crashed his car off the road. Like Dr Clegg, he was incoherent, having no idea about where he was driving to, and also like Dr Clegg, his first memory of the incident was… waking up in a police cell.
Perhaps he should have used a sleepwalking defence? Admittedly he was not in his dressing gown and slippers, but that’s about the only difference.
Even if we accept, at face value, Dr Clegg’s sleepwalking story, the 12 month ban seems exceptionally lenient on practical grounds, given that there appears to be nothing to stop Dr Clegg experiencing one of these ‘episodes’ in the future, especially as he is a man who “drinks up to eight pints a day.”
Dominic Howell, prosecuting, said alcohol could induce sleepwalking and Clegg’s drinking was a contributory factor to events. He said there had been a previous incident, eight months earlier, when Clegg had been drinking, began sleepwalking, and crashed his car into a tree in his driveway. He admitted that episode had not stopped him drinking.
It is indeed unfortunate (or very convenient, when it comes to a legal defence) for Dr Clegg that his episodes of ‘sleep walking’ seem to be brought on by getting drunk. Someone who suffers from this ‘condition’ should surely have their licence taken away.
Gwyn Lewis, defending, told the court the defendant had been a motorist for 40 years without incident. “This is not a conscious act by the defendant to drive a car knowing he was over the legal limit,” Mr Lewis said.”Would it be fair in these particular circumstances for him to be disqualified from driving?”
I appreciate that Gwyn Lewis has to clutch at every legal straw he can in the defence of his client, but a man who repeatedly drives a car while drunk – consciously or unconsciously – does indeed deserve to be disqualified from driving. It is utterly stupid to suggest that because Dr Clegg was unaware of his unconscious behaviour he is any less dangerous on the roads than a conscious drink-driver, and any less deserving of a ban.