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Suffolk’s most prolific drink-driver spared jail after sixth conviction

PUBLISHED: 09:23 22 December 2016 | UPDATED: 09:23 22 December 2016

Eric Neale outside Ipswich Magistrates Court.

Eric Neale outside Ipswich Magistrates Court.

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An alcoholic believed to be Suffolk’s most prolific drink-driver has been spared prison despite admitting his sixth offence.

Eric Neale, who has been jailed twice before for drinking and driving, was nearly three times the legal limit when he was caught this time.

The suspended jail term for his sixth excess alcohol conviction prompted a Stowmarket mother, whose son died due to a drink-driver’s actions, to claim the sentence was no deterrent to others.

Jayne Jones, whose son Aiden was killed in 2009, said: “I think he should have been jailed. There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s done it enough times. In my opinion it is just like saying ‘carry on doing as you have been doing.’ I don’t think it is a deterrent at all.”

Neale, 48, of St Anne’s Close, Beccles, had been told he was at real risk of being jailed again after he changed his plea to guilty on the day his trial was due to begin at South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court three weeks ago.

At his sentencing before the same court yesterday, Neale’s solicitor Sue Threadkell said he has had a drink problem for around 30 years. Before his latest offence he had abstained from alcohol with the support of Alcoholics Anonymous.

However, Mrs Threadkell said her client “fell off the wagon” when he thought he was cured and stopped getting help.

After reading a pre-sentence report by the probation service, magistrates told Neale they were not sending him to custody immediately, but it was a close call.

Instead he was given a six-month prison term, suspended for 18 months, and disqualified from driving for four years.

He must also pay £1,200 prosecution costs and £115 to the victims’ fund.

In addition, Neale was given a 40-day rehabilitation requirement and must undergo a 12-month alcohol treatment programme.

The court had earlier heard the unemployed carpenter has already run up a £6,000 bill in defence costs.

Neale’s latest drink-drive offence happened on May 27 at the Co-op in Rigbourne Hill, Beccles.

Police were called by a member of the public and found Neale sitting in his Renault Scenic with the engine running.

A breath test showed he had 96 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. The legal limit is 35mcgs.

In addition to admitting drink-driving, Neale also pleaded guilty to possessing a Class C drug – diazepam - which had not been prescribed to him. He had them as he suffers from anxiety and depression.

During his earlier hearing it was said that after his arrest Neale had again sought help for his alcoholism.

Neale’s first drink-drive conviction is understood to have been in 1989. This was followed by two further convictions in 1998 - for which he received three months in jail for the latter.

He was jailed for four months after his fourth conviction in 2004. His fifth conviction was in June 2012 when he received a three-year ban.

Following yesterday’s sentencing Inspector David Giles, of Suffolk’s Roads Policing Unit, said: “I believe Mr Neale to be the most prolific drink-driver we have had convicted in Suffolk.

“I hope he does get the help and treatment he needs.

“Alcohol problems or not, there’s no excuse for getting behind the wheel. Hopefully this sentence sends out a strong message to people thinking of drinking and driving.”

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