Mistake that changed businessman's life

BUSINESSMAN Peter Whalley threw himself wholeheartedly into Felixstowe's entertainment and tourism industry – and built himself a fine reputation.Regarded by many as an enterprising, go-ahead young businessman with plenty of ideas, enthusiasm and energy, he has made a success of his seafront premises.

BUSINESSMAN Peter Whalley threw himself wholeheartedly into Felixstowe's entertainment and tourism industry – and built himself a fine reputation.

Regarded by many as an enterprising, go-ahead young businessman with lots of ideas and energy, he has made a success of his seafront premises.

But his error of judgement in drinking at work and then deciding he was fit to drive on the night he mowed down teenager Vicki Kelcher has taken a personal toll, leaving him plagued by nightmares and low self-confidence.

After starting his career in London, he moved to the Suffolk coast aged 25 in 1992 and became manager of the Brook Hotel in Orwell Road. But Whalley was keen to strike out on his own, and there were opportunities in Felixstowe to have a major impact.

He took over Bond's wine bar, part of the old Grand Hotel complex at the bottom of Bent Hill, in 1998 and gave it the full special agent works with Bond girls serving customers. It was a great success – so much so that Whalley considered opening a similar enterprise in Colchester.

But not everything was going to plan. With two colleagues, he took over the nightclub at Charles Manning's Amusement Park in Sea Road, spending thousands to turn it into Republika.

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It was to be "a club for the people", an upmarket dance venue for serious clubbers and executives alike, with a West End atmosphere and London DJs. But it closed a few months later.

Bond's continued to thrive and Whalley became a member of the Felixstowe resort regeneration panel, urging local businessmen to invest money and expertise in the resort.

He played his part, organising events at Bond's including comedy nights.

His next move was to acquire the Old Millars restaurant and pub opposite the leisure centre, which again has been a huge success.

Married to Sarah, with two young children, a house in Princes Gardens and thriving businesses, life was good.

But then came December 8 last year.

Whalley told the Crown Court he had drunk four pints of cider and one of lager with a lemonade top. That evening the restaurant ran out of change and he decided to drive home to get some.

"It was such a shame. I heard that people in Old Millars that night said he shouldn't drive, just in case he was stopped and breathalysed," said a regular at the bar in Undercliff Road West.

"He thought he was fit to drive and that was a mistake.

"Peter has not been the same since. He has been withdrawn and has not been about as much as he used to be.

"He is a caring man, hardworking honest and reliable – and a real family man. He cares about Felixstowe, too. He has invested his life here. He made a mistake, though, and it had terrible consequences."

Whalley, 35, told the court he had suffered nightmares since the accident and still relived the crash. He had been unable to work for months, finding it hard to look people in the eye.

He accepted that the pain he had been through was nothing compared to the pain Vicki Kelcher, her family and friends, had endured, however.

Away from work, Bond's began to suffer. Whalley surrendered licenses for both his premises, with his wife taking over his role.

But council chiefs and police were very concerned about Bond's – premises which he has now sold – and between December 2001 and May this year the authorities said the management had deteriorated. There were concerns for public safety.

He was eventually charged with breaching planning regulations, pleading guilty to operating the wine bar in contravention of its consent by staying open later than 11.30pm. Magistrates fined him £300 and ordered him to pay £100 costs.

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