Unst bus and taxi driver cleared of drink driving after procedural errors

An Unst bus and taxi operator accused of driving while nearly three times the legal alcohol limit was acquitted on a technicality today at Lerwick Sheriff Court.

Charles Priest, 63, of Haroldswick, denied having a blood/alcohol reading of 218 against the legal limit of 80 when stopped in his car one night in September last year by the island’s policeman.

Constable Gary Ross told the court his attention had been drawn to Mr Priest’s car weaving from side to side shortly before midnight on Saturday 18th September last year. He said Mr Priest smelled of drink and was unsteady on his feet when asked to walk to the police car to be breathalysed. He was arrested and taken to the police station after giving a positive test.

In her evidence to the court the island’s doctor, Emma Ramsay, said she was disappointed and saddened to discover that it was Mr Priest who was in the police station when she was called out to assist PC Ross by taking a blood sample. She said she and the policeman knew him well as a member of the Unst community and as its ambulance driver.

But following her evidence Sheriff Graeme Napier stopped the trial after deciding the Crown was unable to prove that the correct procedure had been carried out when Mr Priest was being dealt with at Baltasound Police Station.

Solicitor Martin Morrow from Falkirk was able to persuade the sheriff that the Crown lacked sufficiently strong corroboration from Dr Ramsay to show that Mr Priest had admitted he was driving the car on the actual date that he was stopped.

There was also some uncertainty as to whether PC Ross had included the date when he read the Section 172 procedure from a laminated card that he carried.

Although Dr Ramsay witnessed the procedures before she took blood she was unable to testify that she heard Mr Priest confirm he was the driver on that particular date. She saw him sign forms but did not read them and was not asked to countersign them herself.

Mr Morrow also claimed the procedure was flawed because constable Ross did not offer the chance to see a lawyer face-to-face after Mr Priest had declined his initial offer of a phone call to a lawyer.

The failed prosecution highlights one of the difficulties faced by officers operating on their own in island and remote police stations. The Northern Constabulary may have to review its instructions for carrying out procedures and look at formalising the role of doctors and other civilians who are asked to witness a policeman’s actions in order to provide corroboration at a later date.


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