Ex-solicitor general Vera Baird given six-month driving ban

Antony Stone,Press Association
Wednesday 23 June 2010 14:25 BST

A former solicitor general who sped down a motorway at almost 100mph was banned from driving for six months today.

Top flight QC and former MP Vera Baird, 60, used all her eloquence in court in an attempt to preserve her licence.

But magistrates at Pontypridd, south Wales, dismissed her lengthy arguments after she admitted driving at 98mph on the M4 near Miskin.

They handed her five penalty points which, added to seven already on her licence, triggered an automatic six month disqualification.

Baird, who was unexpectedly ousted as the MP for Redcar in the general election, was also fined £400.

She left court to take a train home today and admitted: "It was a fast bit of driving. I thought that the magistrates listened carefully and were perfectly reasonable."

Baird, of Crouch Hill, Crouch Inn, London, was caught speeding in her silver Hyundai Coupe between junctions 34 and 35 of the M4 on August 30.

At the time of the offence, she was still solicitor general under the last Labour government.

She told magistrates today she was driving down to Limeslade Bay, near Swansea, to see a friend who had had a fall.

She had been due to go on holiday with the friend three weeks later but the injury meant it had to be cancelled.

"It seemed to me that I, uniquely, being the person who she had let down, could cheer her up, because she felt guilty," she said,

"I can only imagine that, almost at the end of the journey somewhere around Pontypridd, that I unfortunately went too fast."

Baird, who represented herself, began by telling magistrates she had checked their sentencing guidelines on the internet.

She informed them that they could impose between four and six penalty points or hand down a 28 day driving ban.

Baird had previously been found guilty in her absence but the case was reopened today when she explained she had never received a summons.

She said, in the circumstances, "I want to claim as much credit as possible for my guilty plea".

She also highlighted the fact that her current penalty points were all due to expire this year, with three actually expiring today.

When magistrates imposed five penalty points she asked for the more severe 28 day ban instead but was told it was not warranted.

Baird then took the stand in an attempt to save her licence by arguing the ban would cause "exceptional hardship".

She said that, as the former MP for Redcar, she was still in the process of "winding up" her constituency work.

A total of 800 files from constituents needed to be gone through before being returned.

"I deliver most of them myself. It seems to me the right thing to do," she said.

She added that "winding up" funding from Parliament ran out in September and she currently went to her former constituency most weekends.

"People came to me for assistance and they did not expect me to stop being there for assistance. To be honest, neither did I, but that is democracy."

She added that what she usually did was take the train from London, having left her car at Darlington station, which she then drove to Redcar.

"There is a train but it is very slow, but the essential problem is driving out to see the people."

She acknowledged that her staff of two at the office did have cars and that it was possible to take taxis for the visits.

Mike Powell, prosecuting, asked whether she could afford to pay for taxis.

"It would come out of the Parliamentary winding-up allowance, unless I actually assume it on my own account, and there does not seem to be a lot of point in that, really."

Liz Pearce, chairwoman of the magistrates, dismissed Baird's exceptional hardship plea, saying it had not been proved from the evidence put before them.

She concluded by warning Baird: "From now on, do not do any car driving in any shape or form and please do not return to driving until you have your licence back."

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