Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Drunk-driver jailed for smash that killed former footballer

Drunk-driver jailed for smash that killed former footballer

A MAN has been jailed for seven-and-a-half years for causing a crash which killed a former professional footballer.

Alexander Clarke pleaded guilty to causing the death of Billy Seymour by dangerous driving and to driving while disqualified.

He was also banned from driving for eight years and will have to take an extended test after his release from prison.

Reading Crown Court heard he had consumed about 10 pints of cider when he crashed Mr Seymour’s van in Sonning Common at about 10.30pm on January 3.

Mr Seymour, 47, who was in the front passenger seat, suffered serious head injuries and died in hospital two days later.

The court heard how Clarke, 38, of no fixed abode, had been at work earlier that day and had been dropped off at a building site in Wallingford.

He met Mr Seymour, who he didn’t know, at the Black Horse pub in Kidmore End Road, Emmer Green, that evening.

Lisa Goddard, prosecuting, said the pair spent four-and-a-half hours at the pub drinking together.

It had gone 9pm when the landlord refused to serve them any more as they were drunk, Clarke more so than Mr Seymour.

The men were unhappy at this but left the pub.

About 10 minutes later the pair visited a nearby off-licence where Mr Seymour bought two bottles. The men were then caught on CCTV chatting and smoking on a pavement outside.

They then drove three miles to Sonning Common with Clarke at the wheel of the Ford Transit van.

The van was being driven along Wood Lane from the centre of the village towards Kidmore End when it spun off the road into a garden fence, colliding with two parked cars.

Residents who came out of their homes thought Clarke would try to leave the scene and told police they had to take him back to the van.

When they asked if he was the driver, Clarke replied: “Yeah, so what?”

The witnesses said he was swaying and was unable to focus his eyes.

Ms Goddard told the court that when police arrived, Clarke told officers to “f*** off”.

He was arrested at 10.50pm after refusing to provide a roadside breath test.

It wasn’t until four hours after the crash that he agreed to provide a blood sample, which showed he had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood.

Ms Goddard said Clarke had five convictions for 18 offences, including robbery for which he was jailed, and he had been banned from driving for 20 months at Oxford Magistrates’ Court in August last year.

She said Mr Seymour’s family were struggling to come to terms with his death.

She read out a statement from the family, which said: “Billy was our much-loved eldest son. For us as a family, we have been left with a massive void.

“Billy will never see his daughter marry or have the chance to be a grandfather. Family was very important to our Billy.”

A message from his sister Katy Crossland read: “The impact of hearing that our brother Billy was initially seriously injured and then subsequently died has been life-changing to all our family. Our future has been changed forever.”

Shaun Esprit, for Clarke, said his client was sorry and accepted full responsibility.

He said: “In terms of personal mitigation, there is not a great deal that I can say because Mr Clarke would not want me to touch upon little things that really do not change the essential fact that he is responsible for loss of life through an act of stupidity and recklessness.”

He said Clarke had been “dragged into the vortex of alcohol abuse” and had suffered with depression but did not want to make excuses or invoke sympathy.

“He becomes an unrecognisable person to himself when he drinks,” said Mr Esprit.

He read out a statement by Clarke to Mr Seymour’s family which said: “I know it is only words but I am so sorry for what happened. I do not know what I was thinking.

“I feel so ashamed. I am not asking for forgiveness. I cannot begin to understand what the family is going through.

“You must believe me that I am really, really sorry I have hurt so many people.”

The judge Mr Justice Nicol told Clarke: “No sentence which I can pass on you will begin to recompense Billy’s family for his death.

“I am clear that you had indeed consumed a substantial amount of alcohol that evening.

“Your collision with two parked cars shows that your driving was grossly impaired.

“In this case there are several aggravating factors. You were not a first time offender. You have five convictions for a total of 18 offences. Notably, they almost all have origins in excessive consumption of alcohol.

“You had no insurance and refused to provide a roadside sample of breath.

“You do rather belatedly appear to be showing some remorse for your behaviour.”

After the case, family and friends of Mr Seymour hugged each other outside the court.

Mr Seymour, who had moved to Sonning Common, played football for Coventry City and Millwall.

More recently he was an ambassador for the Offside Trust, which was set up to support victims of abuse in sport.

He gave evidence at last year’s trial of former coach Bob Higgins who was accused of indecent assault on teenage boys. Higgins has denied 51 alleged offences at his retrial at Bournemouth Crown Court.

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