When the Tory MP Nicholas Soames set off on a quad bike to follow a New Year's Day hunt, pulling a trailer occupied by children and a pregnant woman, he may have felt gleefully politically incorrect. But this image – captured by hunt saboteurs and reproduced in a newspaper – came back to haunt him yesterday when he was banned from driving for two months after pleading guilty to riding the vehicle without insurance.
Crawley magistrates dismissed a charge against the former armed services minister, a grandson of Winston Churchill, of using a vehicle in a dangerous condition as he travelled at about 10mph along a stretch of public road at Slaugham, West Sussex, to get from one field to another. But the Mid-Sussex MP – who represented Crawley until 1997, when he switched constituency – conceded that the video footage was self-explanatory.
"Mr Soames accepts that as can be seen in the video, he was carrying a number of people in the vehicle and in the trailer, all of whom were unrestrained and all of whom were standing up," Nigel Pilkington, for the prosecution, told the court. "They included three children aged three, five and seven, and a lady who was six months' pregnant. Had any injury occurred to his party, or any others, then there would have been no insurance in place to compensate the parties."
Tim Hayden, for the defence, said: "This being an era of modern hunting, Mr Soames would not have known where the trail would have taken place so he needed to get from one field to another. I emphasise that his driving throughout was cautious and careful. The cargo that he was carrying were people that were close to him and that was the reason why he drove extremely carefully."
Mr Soames, 60, had three previous endorsements on his licence, all fixed penalties, the magistrates were told.
The court heard that images of the most recent offence were passed by the hunt saboteurs to Sussex Police for investigation. But, Mr Hayden claimed, the footage was also handed to the media in a "vindictive act" designed to "embarrass" Mr Soames, an old Etonian.
He added: "I ask that the court consider that it was done to embarrass him, and of course he is embarrassed by it, but all of the opprobrium that was directed at the time did not acknowledge the facts you have with you now."
Mr Soames, who has been an MP for 25 years, claimed that a driving disqualification would adversely affect commitments to his constituents, some of whom had provided positive testimonials, along with colleagues in the House of Commons. "It would be very difficult to deal with my constituency in the way that it has come to be expected of me," he told the court.
The chairman of the bench, Rosie McMahon, told the MP: "We have noted that the vehicle was driven a short distance and it was cautiously ridden. However, the vehicle was not suitable for use on a public road and persons were carried, including children and a pregnant woman."
The images featured in the Daily Mirror on 3 January after the death on Boxing Day of seven-year-old Elizabeth Cooke, who was involved in an accident while riding a quad bike on a public road in Blackmore, Essex.
Mr Soames, a friend of the Prince of Wales, was also fined £200 and ordered to pay £50 costs. He said after the case: "I'm glad that the court has dealt with it and that it's all over."
The world of Churchill's grandson
In his own words...
* 'The Conservatives will not get anywhere until they end this mad obsession with gays, blacks and women and start behaving like a grown-up party.'
* 'You sex god, you Adonis, you, the greatest of all men' – on the telephone to Alastair Campbell during the Iraq WMD scandal
* 'Mine's a gin and tonic, Giovanni, and would you ask my friend what he's having' – to John Prescott, a former ship steward, in the House of Commons
And the words of others ...
* From an unnamed former girlfriend: 'Imagine lying in bed when suddenly the wardrobe topples over and falls on top of you with the key still in the lock.'