Soccer star Hughes guilty of dangerous driving death charge

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Premiership footballer Lee Hughes was today found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving in his £100,000 sports car.

The Premiership footballer Lee Hughes was jailed for six years today after being found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving in his £100,000 sports car.

The 28-year-old West Bromwich Albion forward, of Meriden, West Midlands, was convicted at Coventry Crown Court at the end of a six-day trial.

Hughes ploughed his super-charged Mercedes sports coupe into another car near his home, killing father-of-four Douglas Graham, who was travelling in the back, before fleeing the scene on foot.

The footballer bit his lip but showed no other signs of emotion when the verdict was delivered.

The jury took just 90 minutes to reach its decision.

Judge Christopher Hodson told the footballer he had showed a "callous disregard" for the victims by running away from the scene.

"It has to be remembered by all that any penalty that this court can impose on you will not bring the unfortunate Mr Graham back to life."

The judge added: "You clearly believed that if you had been breathalysed then you would have been over the limit."

Relatives of 56-year-old Mr Graham, who included his wife Maureen and two sons and daughters, greeted the verdict with cries of "Yes!" and burst into tears.

The footballer's wife, Anna, sitting just two rows in front of them in the public gallery also wept.

In a statement released after the verdict, 50-year-old Mrs Graham, who gave evidence against Hughes during the trial, described the impact the loss of her husband had had on the family.

"Something has been taken away from my family that can never be replaced," said Mrs Graham, who was severely injured in the crash.

She added: "We know that we must now simply attempt to come to terms with the loss. We can only hope that the person involved will acknowledge what he has done to my family.

"Nobody can understand the huge amount of grief and stress that has been caused to my family over the last nine months."

Mrs Graham described her husband as a "loving, caring" man and a good father who enjoyed playing dominoes and pool, and had won a number of trophies in each sport.

She said that she had never heard of Lee Hughes before the tragedy in the early hours of November 23 last year and had no interest in football, though her husband would follow the fortunes of Coventry City - one of Hughes's former clubs.

The court that Hughes had a previous conviction for for drink driving when he was 18. He fined £250 and banned for a year on that occasion.

Earlier the nine men and three women jurors were urged not to "allow fame or fortune or wealth" to influence their decision.

Summing up, Judge Hodson told the panel that they were entitled to draw an "adverse inference" over the footballer's refusal to explain where he was in the 36-hours after the crash before he turned himself in at a Coventry police station.

The crash, shortly after midnight on November 23, happened as Hughes drove himself and four friends home after visiting two pubs, the Queen's Head and Poachers Retreat.

Earlier that evening, Hughes had played in Albion's 0-0 home draw against Reading.

It has been alleged that Hughes' wife, Anna - who was sitting in the public gallery as the judge spoke - drove him and his friend Adrian Smith to his home in Smethwick, West Midlands, more than 20 miles away, so that her husband would not have to take a breath test because he was over the limit.

The player had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to stop after an accident and failing to report an accident.

The trial had heard that Hughes' car, which he had bought around six months before the incident, was in good working order with no faults with its powerful brakes.

The judge imposed concurrent four-month sentences for the offences which Hughes admitted at the start of the trial - failing to stop at the scene and failing to report the accident to the police within 24-hours.

Explaining his sentence, the judge told Hughes: "I have to consider the level of culpability which is appropriate to reflect accurately your dangerous driving.

"After this accident you chose to run away from the scene and to stay away for what we understand to be nearly 34-hours.

"In running away you showed a callous disregard for others who were in the other car, one of whom was dead, another of whom was seriously injured and two others who were injured.

"I am quite certain that in running away you were thinking of yourself and you were attempting to avoid the legal consequences of driving having consumed alcohol."

The judge said there could be no other reason for the footballer to have fled the crash scene in Meriden other than to avoid a breath test.

"You had been drinking shots of Jack Daniel's whiskey.

"The jury heard the evidence that you might have had three in the first public house and more in the Poacher's Retreat, the second public house to which you went.

"Alcohol, in my judgment, played a part in this tragic accident. It explains the reason why you were driving at an excessive speed and why you collided with the oncoming vehicle."

Prior to sentence, defence counsel David Fish QC told the court that the star's life was in ruins as a result of his conviction.

The lawyer said: "This case falls short of the most serious. There was no racing, no competitive driving and no aggressive driving.

"As to the man himself, Your Honour has read the testimonials. He has a devoted wife and wider family, and two children aged three and 15 months.

"At the age of 28 the effect of the prison sentence that is now being passed upon him is that his career is in ruins.

"He will have to pick up the pieces of what is left, if anything, upon his release."

After the case a spokesman for road safety charity Brake said: "Hughes should have received the maximum penalty of 14 years for this atrocious offence.

"Hughes left the scene and only turned up 36 hours later. He showed a total failure to take responsibility for his actions.

"Today's sentence is an insult to the family of Mr Graham and to the others seriously injured in the crash."