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Ban for new driver George - at 73

PUBLISHED: 19:15 03 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:36 03 March 2010

DREAMS of a life on the open road were dashed for a record-breaking Ipswich pensioner, who has been banned for drink-driving after passing his test this summer - at the grand old age of 73.

DREAMS of a life on the open road were dashed for a record-breaking Ipswich pensioner, who has been banned for drink-driving after passing his test this summer - at the grand old age of 73.

The elation of George Francis - whose 12- year battle to gain a licence involved £10,000 worth of lessons, a string of 14 instructors and a marathon run of 18 tests - hit a sobering moment when Ipswich magistrates handed him a 12-month ban and a £70 fine.

After his epic struggle to take to the road, which was covered in the Sun and the Daily Mail after it appeared in The Evening Star, Francis wept as the court ordered him off it.

It is thought he holds the record for being the oldest person to pass the driving test in Britain.

Former railway worker Francis, of Tyler Street, held a licence for just five months before having it taken away after pleading guilty at South East Suffolk magistrates court yesterday.

David Taylor, prosecuting, said that Francis had been driving his Peugeot 309 on the main road in Chelmondiston on May 5, when he was involved in an accident with a red Escort van.

Mr Taylor said the accident was not the fault of the pensioner, but a blood test revealed a level of 101 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of his blood. The legal limit is 80mg.

Francis, who had drunk a small amount of sherry before taking the wheel, wept in court as he apologised for his actions.

"I've never drunk a bottle of sherry in my life - I'm not a drinking man," he said.

Magistrates imposed no separate penalty for the fact that, at the time of the accident, Francis held a provisional licence, having only passed his test for the first time after the incident.

Francis refused to go on a drink-drive rehabilitation course, which could have reduced his sentence by three months, saying he was not a man who needed to address a drink problem.

"I had only drunk a small bottle of sherry earlier that day," he said later. "I was feeling depressed and it built me up. I have to look after my lady friend who can't dress or wash herself, but I had never drunk that amount before.

"It was a lovely day and I asked her if she wanted to go for a drive to with me and my brother Victor, who is 87, to the Shotley Peninsula.

"I felt quite safe to drive. I kept asking my lady friend and Victor if they felt safe otherwise I would've turned back."

At the age of 62, Francis decided that he needed to swap his bicycle for a car, to give his lady friend, 74-year-old Olive Lambert, a degree of freedom after doctors advised her she would need a wheelchair.

He said: "I used to pray every Friday 'Please God, let me pass my test'. My final driving instructor said he hadn't met anyone so determined."

In the end, the 500 driving lessons he had are believed to be the most ever taken by a man in Britain. His fees bill even beat Maureen Rees, star of the TV documentary series Driving School, who spent just £5,000 on lessons and seven tests.

Francis, Mrs Lambert, and his brother Victor were taken to Ipswich Hospital with painful bruising following the accident which happened as he kept to the 30mph speed limit near the Venture pub.

He said he knew nothing about the drink-drive charge until he received a court summons last week.

"It's sad really," he said. "I know drink-driving is wrong but it was a bit of bad luck."

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