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Technicality sets drink drivers free

PUBLISHED: 03:30 02 June 2005 | UPDATED: 05:53 02 March 2010

FOUR per cent of drink drivers caught over the legal limit in Suffolk this year have not been prosecuted, because of a technicality.

Figures obtained by The Evening Star under the Freedom of Information Act, show over the past four years, 79 motorists arrested for drink driving have escaped punishment.

FOUR per cent of drink drivers caught over the legal limit in Suffolk this year have not been prosecuted, because of a technicality.

Figures obtained by The Evening Star under the Freedom of Information Act, show over the past four years, 79 motorists arrested for drink driving have escaped punishment.

Suffolk police today stressed again their commitment to purging the roads of drink drivers. But officers say they are powerless to prosecute in certain circumstances due to government guidelines.

The legal alcohol limit for driving is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath or 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.

Suspects are given two breath tests when they are taken to a police station after their arrest. The lowest reading of the two is taken as the final figure.

If the lowest reading is above 35mcg of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath but below 40mcgs, the offenders are not charged. They are, however, offered words of warning about their alcohol consumption when driving.

This year so far police have caught 307 drink drivers in Suffolk. However 14 of them have been released without charge because they were not far enough beyond the legal limit to be prosecuted. Since the beginning of 2001, 79 motorists out of 3,669 have avoided being charged with drink driving - a total of two per cent of those arrested.

Sergeant Steve Knight, of Suffolk roads' policing unit said: "As with other police forces in the country, Suffolk operates within Home Office guidelines on the prosecution of drink drive offenders.

"Those tested at the roadside who give a positive reading are arrested and brought into police custody where they are given a second test. If this second test falls below the legal limit of 35 mcg in 100 millilitres of breath the case is discontinued.

"Those exceeding this limit by a small margin are given the option of having a blood test and if this test comes back below the 80 mlg limit then again the case is discontinued. Proceedings will be taken against anyone blowing over 40 mcg.

"More people than ever are willing to give information about those who are drink driving and we are pro-actively targeting these individuals, leading to more people being caught.

"Suffolk Police take drink driving very seriously and run a campaign 365 days of the year to target those individuals who put their own and others lives at risk by getting behind the wheel when they've had too much alcohol.

"We see the pain and heartbreak drink driving can cause and we would urge anyone with information about those who are drink or drug driving to call us. You could be saving someone's life."

Carole Whittingham, whose son Steven was killed by a drink driver in West Yorkshire in 1992, is the national co-ordinator for CADD.

She was alarmed to discover some drink drivers are not being prosecuted.

Mrs Whittingham said: "It's a high figure and I am quite shocked. I would have thought they would be much lower. Something should be done about it and straight away.

"I think there may be some mileage in looking at cases more closely, even dropping the margin of error. Perhaps doing something like we do for speeding drivers and sending them on a rehabilitation course.

"The law in this country is weighted on the side of the offender. I would prosecute drink drivers on the first option (highest reading). These figures reinforce our feeling that we should have zero tolerance for drink driving. That way you remove any grey areas."

Numbers of people arrested for drink driving in Suffolk since 2001.

2001 - 1005

2002 - 1001

2003 - 1110

2004 - 1146

2005 to May 18 - 307

Total - 3,669

Drink drive arrests in Suffolk not proceeded with, because the second reading or blood level check was below the boundaries for prosecution.

2001 - 13

2002 - 14

2003 - 11

2004 - 27

2005 to May 18 - 14

Total - 79

N We would like to hear your views on the guidelines for prosecuting drink drivers? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk


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