Footballer jailed after fleeing car crash that killed father of four

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The Independent Online

Lee Hughes, the Premiership footballer, was jailed for six years yesterday for causing death by dangerous driving. Hughes had driven his Mercedes into an oncoming car after a whiskey-drinking session, killing a man who had four children, and leaving another man in a wheelchair.

The 28-year-old West Bromwich Albion forward was sacked by his club yesterday. Hughes's six-day trial at Coventry Crown Court heard how his £100,000 sports car ploughed into the oncoming Renault near his home, in Meriden, West Midlands, early on 23 November, killing passenger Douglas Graham almost instantly.

The driver of the Renault, Albert Frisby, had his knees smashed. He spent three months in hospital and now uses a wheelchair.

Hughes, who had been drinking at two pubs near his home, fled from the scene, and turned himself into police 34 hours later. When the footballer was 18, he had been banned for a year for drink-driving.

Judge Christopher Hodson said he had no doubt Hughes had fled because he knew he would fail a breath test. "I realise your football career is at an end, but remember that Douglas Graham's life is at an end," the judge said. "In running away you showed a callous disregard for others. "I am quite satisfied you were thinking only of yourself and you were attempting to avoid the legal consequences of driving having consumed alcohol."

The judge said Hughes had been drinking shots of Jack Daniel's. He had had three in the first pub he went to and more in the second.

Relatives of Mr Graham, including his wife, Maureen, 50, and their two sons and two daughters, greeted the verdict with cries of "Yes" before bursting into tears. Hughes bit his lip as the jury found him guilty but appeared to wink at his wife, Anna, as he was led out.

Mr Graham's son, also Douglas, 34, said after the verdict: "The death of a husband, father, grandfather and brother, and the circumstances surrounding this case have caused a huge amount of grief and stress to our family. We can only hope that Mr Hughes will acknowledge what he has done to our family and that he can learn from these terrible events."

The detective who led the investigation, Detective Sergeant Andrew Bannister, said he hoped other drivers would "consider their actions" in the wake of the case.

Hughes had been drinking at the Poacher's Retreat in Eastern Green, Coventry and the Queen's Head in Meriden after appearing as a substitute in Albion's televised 0-0 draw with Reading. He was driving home with four friends to continue drinking at his private bar and play pool when he lost control on a bend in Pickford Grange Lane, Meriden, and collided with the Renault.

In his evidence, Hughes claimed he had drunk just two Jack Daniel's whiskey and Cokes, and taken only a sip of a third. But bar staff said he had been served double measures of the spirit before he got behind the wheel.

The player said he fled the scene in panic an d shock, but refused to explain his whereabouts in the aftermath of the tragedy. It has been alleged that Hughes' wife drove him and his friend Adrian Smith to his home in Smethwick, West Midlands, more than 20 miles away, so her husband would not have to take a breath test because he was over the limit.

Judge Hodson had told the jury they were entitled to draw an "adverse inference" over the footballer's refusal to explain where he was in the hours after the crash before he turned himself in.

Last night, West Bromwich Albion said it was terminating Hughes's contract, which had two years left to run.

PLAYERS IN JAIL

1972:Manchester United legend George Best was convicted for drink-driving and assaulting a police officer. He was jailed for three months

1988: Liverpool midfielder Jan Molby was jailed for three months for reckless driving after crashing his car outside a nightclub

1990: Former England captain Tony Adams served two months at Chelmsford open prison for drink-driving offences

1990: Former Arsenal and England midfielder Peter Storey was sentenced to 28 days for attempting to import pornography

1991: Former Tottenham and England full-back Terry Fenwick received two months for drink-driving

1993: Former Manchester United forward Mickey Thomas received 18 months for passing forged bank notes

1995: Duncan Ferguson served 44 days for headbutting Raith Rovers' John McStay while at Rangers. He was sentenced just after moving to Everton

2004: Former Aston Villa player Gary Charles jailed for four months for drink-driving