Woman found comatose cleared of drink-driving

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The Independent Online

A solicitor renowned for successfully defending celebrities charged with motoring offences has secured the remarkable acquittal of a police inspector's wife caught four times over the drink-driving limit.

Nick Freeman, whose previous clients include Sir Alex Ferguson and David Beckham, said the results of breath tests on Yvonne Lancaster should be set aside because of procedural breaches by the police.

Officers could not rouse Mrs Lancaster when they found her slumped in the driver's seat of a Vauxhall Nova with the door open and an empty 500ml vodka bottle lying outside, although a police constable still told her she was to be charged.

But at nearby Warrington police station, where she had to be propped up and was unable to answer most questions put to her, she was neither cautioned again nor offered a solicitor. A court later freed Mrs Lancaster, 45, whose husband is in the Cheshire force.

The Cheshire custody sergeant, Helen Spooner, told Warrington magistrates that Mrs Lancaster was not read her rights because "she was extremely drunk and [not] able to understand". She had made a number of attempts to give a breath sample and had to be held by two officers because she could have fallen over if not supported, she said. After taking two samples, the officer called a police surgeon and Mrs Lancaster, from Great Sankey, Warrington, Cheshire, was taken to hospital.

Mr Freeman told the court he "could not imagine a more vulnerable detainee than this lady". Being read her rights was "a fundamental mainstay for any person in custody", he said. "[She] should have gone straight to hospital and should not have been taken to a police station at all." Magistrates agreed breaches in police protocol meant the breath-test readings taken at the station could not be accepted as evidence.

Two years ago Mr Freeman, persuaded a judge to quash a driving ban on David Beckham, saying the footballer had to break the speed limit in his Ferrari to escape a photographer chasing him in a Ford Fiesta. He also defended Sir Alex when he was cleared of illegally driving on a motorway hard shoulder because he was rushing to find a lavatory. There was supporting evidence in both cases. The Fiesta driver allegedly tailed Mr Beckham from his home and twice tried to overtake him. Mr Freeman also successfully defended Sir Alex's son, Darren, and another footballer, Ashley Ward of Bradford City.

Police are astonished by Mrs Lancaster's acquittal The arresting officer PC Samantha Hardcastle, told magistrates: "When I was speaking to her [in the car] I got no response. And when I was shaking her arm I got very little response.

"She opened her eyes and ... I informed her she was going to be charged and cautioned her. But she made no reply, and I thought it highly unlikely that she had comprehended what I had said."