George Michael faces jail over drug driving crash

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The Independent Online

Pop singer George Michael was warned he faced jail today after he admitted crashing his Range Rover while under the influence of cannabis.

The 47-year-old star, whose real name is Georgios Panayiotou, appeared amid heavy security at Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court after he was arrested last month.

He pleaded guilty to driving while unfit through drugs and possessing two cannabis cigarettes when he was held in Hampstead, north-west London, in the early hours of July 4.

The court heard the Wham! star was found slumped at the wheel of his car after a resident dialled 999 to report a vehicle had ploughed into a branch of Snappy Snaps.

Police who banged on the window to rouse him suspected he was under the influence of something after they found him "spaced out" and with no memory of what had happened.

Michael was found carrying two cannabis cigarettes and tests on a sample of his blood revealed he had chemicals linked to the drug in his system.

The court heard Michael was also convicted of driving while unfit through drugs after he was found collapsed in his Mercedes in October 2006.

The crash was the latest in a long line of clashes with the law involving Michael, who has been open about his use of cannabis and claimed he is trying to cut down.

The star has been cautioned for drugs possession, questioned over several minor accidents and, famously, fined for "engaging in a lewd act" in a California public toilet.

District Judge Robin McPhee banned Michael from driving and said he could be jailed when he returns to the court next month to be sentenced.

Mr McPhee said: "I make it clear all options, in respect of sentencing, remain open, including powers to imprison.

"It is a serious matter. Your driving was extremely poor and there was an accident. There is also your conviction from three years ago."

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

Prosecutor Penny Fergusson said Michael appeared to try to get the car back in gear when he was roused by one officer banging on his window.

She said: "Mr Michael looked at the officer with his eyes wide open and the officers could see his pupils were dilated. They opened the door and could see he was dripping with sweat."

The court heard Michael did not initially respond to police and when asked what his name was, replied: "George."

When he got out of the car the officers found he was soaked with sweat, breathing heavily and had to be held up.

Ms Fergusson said Michael was confused and when told he had crashed into a shop, added: "No I didn't. I didn't crash into anything."

Michael was handcuffed, arrested and driven back to Hampstead police station where he failed a test to find whether he is fit to drive. He had not been drinking.

The prosecutor added: "He could not remember the route he took or crashing his car. He just remembers the police officer knocking at his window."

Michael admitted smoking a "small quantity" of cannabis about 10pm the previous evening and said he also took a newly-prescribed sedative to help him sleep.

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

His barrister Mukul Chawla QC said his legal team will undertake further research about the impact of the sedative on Michael before the next hearing.

Mr Chawla said his client was "clearly" unfit to drive and could not remember when he took the prescribed drug. He said this was no excuse for the offence.

Michael, who wore a black suit and sweater, spoke only to plead guilty and confirm his name, age and address during the short hearing.

The star could not remember the full postcode of his Highgate home and was helped with the details by the court clerk.

The public gallery was filled with fans who shouted out "you're an inspiration" and "I love you" and asked for autographs as he left the courtroom.

Michael made no comment as he left court to be mobbed by more than 40 photographers and cameramen as he was driven away in a black BMW seven series.

The star was handed an interim six-month driving ban that will be superseded next month. The court heard he stopped driving after his latest crash.

Michael will be sentenced at the same court on September 14 at 2pm.