Friday, July 18, 2008

Lib Dem - Drink driving - Again

Greasy and oily and still sucking in some people

A councillor has been thrown out of his party after being caught drink driving while almost three times over the legal limit.

Hugh O’Hanlon, 56, was suspended by Mayor of Watford Dorothy Thornhill as soon as he informed the Liberal Democrat leader about his arrest.

O’Hanlon, who was returned to his Tudor ward seat in this year’s May elections, pleaded guilty to drink driving and driving without insurance at Watford Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

He has been banned from driving and faces a community order as well as a hefty fine.

Despite allegations he performed council duties while drunk, O’Hanlon – who receives an annual allowance of £7,209 from Watford Borough Council – said he will not resign from his seat.

He said: “I won’t be resigning under any circumstances.

“My council work is exceptional. I have had letters about how good a councillor I am, that’s excellent.

“I have got to put my hands up in the air and say I am extremely sorry.

“I have been an idiot. It’s my fault. I cannot do anything else, but there were a lot of reasons which brought that into line.”

Watford magistrates heard O’Hanlon was stopped by police on his driveway on Thursday, June 19, having driven his wife’s blue Fiat Punto the few hundred yards from the Tudor Arms.

Lynette Woodrow, prosecuting, told the court: “He got out of the driver’s door and was seen to put something in his mouth.

“When questioned, he said it was a mint and told the officers they would now have to wait 20 minutes to breathalyse him.

“He appeared drunk and was being argumentative.”

When he was arrested at 6.35pm, O’Hanlon asked: “Who called you?”

He was taken to Watford Police Station, where he gave a alcohol reading of 104. The legal limit is 35.

It is not the first time O’Hanlon, a governor of Parkgate Junior Infants School, has been caught drink driving. In 1999 he was banned for a year for the same offence.

Tony Irving, defending, said in mitigation O’Hanlon had taken the “foolish” decision to drive the short distance home because he cannot walk more than 200 yards since suffering a stroke in November.

He said his client suffered from depression as a result of the condition but his arrest had brought home his need for help, which was being dealt with by O’Hanlon’s GP.

When it came to driving without insurance, the court heard O’Hanlon thought he was covered, but later discovered the policy was only for his wife and daughter.

O’Hanlon’s alleged drunken behaviour was first brought to the council’s attention last year when he was reported to have overturned a table in a fit of rage at the Tudor Arms.

He was barred from the pub following the incident but then allowed back after it was said to be a case of “mistaken identity”.

Mayor Thornhill said that was the one and only time the council has received any complaint about the “well-liked” councillor.

She said: “We went round to speak to the landlady but by then it had been sorted out and no further action was taken.

“We have never had a single formal complaint about him, but after the pub incident I made it quite clear that any more of that sort of stuff and people would start to make assumptions.”

The Mayor, who was unaware of O’Hanlon’s previous spent drink driving conviction, said there was no excuse for his crime.

She added: “The only good thing to come out of all this is that he is facing the fact he is a victim of alcohol abuse and is doing something about it.”

Asked if there is any way back for him into the party, she said: “The most important thing is for him to get on with being a good councillor, it’s up to Hugh.

“The ball’s in his court.”

O’Hanlon could carry on representing the Tudor ward as an independent.

Indeed the council’s website has already changed his personal profile and now lists him as an independent.

However, the Liberal Democrat hierarchy has been criticised for allowing O’Hanlon to stand for re-election in May.

Amanda Grimston, a Conservative councillor for the Leggatts ward, said she complained the Tudor councillor had arrived “drunk” and late for a meeting last year – accusations O’Hanlon denies.

Councillor Grimston said: “I think what he has done is an utter disgrace. I do not care if you are Labour or Conservative or a Liberal Democrat.

“It is not the behaviour of a local councillor. I feel he should be struck off.”

Leader of the Conservative group, Andrew Mortimer, said it was obvious to all that O’Hanlon needed help.

He said: “He has clearly fought with the problem for some time and I am very sorry that it has caught up with him. Of all the people I know in the council it was clear he had a problem.”

However, Mr O’Hanlon described allegations of being drunk in a council meeting as “absolute nonsense”.

He said: “There’s not one person in that town hall that’s seen me drunk.

“I do know what she [Councillor Grimston] is talking about. It’s where I had been for a beer before a meeting and that's it, end of story.

“As far as being drunk, no way. Not in a million years.”

As well as a minimum 12-month ban, magistrates must decide what severity of fine to impose on O’Hanlon.

Hanlon, who can also expect a medium length community order, will be sentenced on Tuesday, August 5.


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