Hughes pleads for chance to rebuild his life

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The Independent Football

Three years after he received a six-year jail sentence for his part in a car crash which killed a father-of-four, Lee Hughes was yesterday unveiled as an Oldham Athletic player.

Hughes made a public apology yesterday and pleaded for "a chance to rebuild my life". But a victim of the crash, and the daughter of the man who died, were unconvinced by his contrition.

Hughes, now 31, was found guilty in August 2004 of causing death by dangerous driving and leaving the scene of an accident. At the time he was playing for West Bromwich Albion who had just been promoted to the Premier League.

Hughes had been at the wheel of his £100,000 Mercedes coupe when he crashed into a Renault Scenic near Coventry in the early hours of 23 November, 2003. Hughes' car was described by an occupant of the Renault as being driven at "about 60mph" on the wrong side of the road. Douglas Graham, 56, a passenger in the Renault, was killed. Hughes fled, handing himself in 36 hours later. He denied being over the alcohol limit but admitted he had been drinking.

Yesterday Hughes, who was released from Featherstone Prison earlier this month, said: "I'm acutely aware of my actions, which resulted in the death of one person and serious injury to others. I made dreadful mistakes and decisions that will live with me for the rest of my life.

"I only wish I could turn back the clock. Although I have served the sentence laid down by law, I know nothing I can do or say will change what has happened. This is the first time I've been able to make a public apology for my actions and I now hope for an opportunity to rebuild my life. After this press conference today, I do not intend to discuss or make comment about the events which led to my imprisonment."

Hughes, who pledged to do community work, added: "I have met with a relative of the man who died. For different reasons I think we were both glad that the meeting occurred."

This appeared to be a reference to a meeting with Sharon Montgomery, daughter of Mr Graham, who appears to have a less positive view of the occasion. "I had to face the demon who never had the decency to say sorry," she said. Mrs Montgomery's mother Maureen, 51, broke her leg in the crash. She died a year later.

Albert Frisby, driver of the Renault, spent five months in hospital after the crash and still walks with a stick. He said: "He's arrogant and I've no time for him. I'm not happy about him getting a job. He has got no remorse. As far as I am concerned he could have killed me, after all he left me for dead. He's out of prison to start his life over again playing football whereas our lives have been destroyed."

The subject of redemption is very much in the public eye given the forthcoming possible parole of Learco Chindamo, who murdered schoolteacher Philip Lawrence, and is a sensitive issue.

At least Hughes was saying the right things – only he knows if he means them. Oldham director Barry Owen was on less sure ground when he said: "I'm not prepared to think about the moral aspects. I think he's entitled to pick up his job. Bearing in mind his past footballing achievements, I hope this will turn out to be one of our best signings for many years."

A West Brom fan, Hughes worked as a roofer, playing part-time for Kidderminster, before joining Albion in 1997. He moved to Coventry for £5m in 2001 but returned to West Brom a year later for £2.5m. In 252 League games he scored 105 goals.