George Michael begins drug-drive jail sentence

Pop star George Michael is starting an eight-week prison sentence tonight for crashing his Range Rover while high on cannabis.

The 47-year-old, whose real name is Georgios Panayiotou, was found slumped at the wheel of his car after it ploughed into a branch of Snappy Snaps in north London in July.



Michael, who has a previous conviction for the same offence, was told by District Judge John Perkins there was no option but jail.



The former Wham! star admitted driving while unfit through drugs and possessing two cannabis cigarettes when he appeared at London's Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court last month.



Police who banged on the window found him "spaced out" and with no memory of what had happened.



Blood tests showed he had chemicals linked to cannabis in his system.



The singer sighed heavily as District Judge Perkins said he would serve four weeks in prison and spend the remainder on licence.



Michael was also banned from driving for five years and ordered to pay a £1,250 fine, £100 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.



One fan sobbed in the public gallery as he was taken down from the dock by security guards.



Michael's guilty plea and remorse allowed District Judge Perkins to reduce the sentence, he said, but not to offer the community sentence requested by the defence.



Michael was arrested in Hampstead shortly before 4am on July 4 when two police officers found him apparently unconscious in his grey Range Rover in Rosslyn Hill.



When told he had crashed into a shop, he added: "No I didn't. I didn't crash into anything."



At Hampstead police station he failed a test to find whether he was fit to drive.



The musician admitted smoking a "small quantity" of cannabis about 10pm the previous evening and said he also took the anti-depressant Amitriptyline to help him sleep.



He told police he decided to drive between his homes in Highgate and Hampstead to meet a friend and forgot he had taken the sedative.



District Judge Perkins said: "You drove your motor vehicle about a mile while suffering from a severe impairment as a result of mixing not only a prescription treatment with which you were unfamiliar but also with cannabis.



"That's a dangerous and unpredictable mix and something which for you is dangerous given your record.



"It does not appear that you took proper steps to deal with what is clearly an addiction to cannabis.



"That's a mistake which puts you and, on this occasion, the public at risk."



The district judge said he took into account that Michael had checked into a clinic after the crash to seek help for anxiety, depression and insomnia, which had led him to depend on prescription drugs and had noted he was dealing with bereavement issues.



"I accept entirely that you have shown remorse for the offence, that you are ashamed of it, that you admitted it," he said, but added that "with regret" a jail term was inevitable because of Michael's previous conviction.



Michael's long-term partner Kenny Goss threw his head into his hands in despair at that point.



Mukul Chawla QC, mitigating, said Michael personally repaid the cost of the damage to the shop owner and had asked that his "profound shame and horror of having repeated the conduct of 2006" was made clear to the court.



"He acknowledges his actions of driving had the effect of causing other road users to be in danger and that stark fact is something about which he is greatly ashamed.



"The prospect he could have put anyone else in danger is an appalling prospect to him."



He said Michael had tried to turn his life around.



"For the first time in many years he has started writing again. His creativity, so long hampered by his drug dependence, is re-emerging."



Mr Chawla said Michael had tried to come off prescription drugs without professional help earlier this year but symptoms returned so he sought medical help and was given Amitriptyline.



Michael remained an outpatient at the rehab clinic, he added.



The singer, wearing a charcoal suit with a black tie, spoke only to confirm his name and address and to say he would prefer to be addressed by his stage name.



The jail sentence is the culmination of a long line of clashes with the law for the singer, who has been open about his use of cannabis and claimed in the past that he was trying to cut down.



Michael was banned from driving for two years and sentenced to 100 hours of community service after he was convicted of driving while unfit through drugs after he was found collapsed in his Mercedes in 2006.



He was cautioned twice in 2006 for possession of cannabis and cautioned for possession for crack cocaine and cannabis two years later.



He was fined for "engaging in a lewd act" in a California public toilet in 1998.



Fans gathered outside the court to get a glimpse of the star, screaming his name and trying to break through a barrier of 12 police officers as he arrived at court this afternoon.



One fan passed a good luck card for Michael to Mr Goss.



Shelly Williams, 41, from east London, sobbed from the public gallery as Michael was sentenced.



"I have been a fan for 26 years - that's longer than a marriage.



"I hope he continues with the process of making himself better."

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