Sunday, May 25, 2008

SNP - Drink driving shame

THE Head of Wigtown Licensing Board, Robert Higgins, appeared in handcuffs in Stranraer Sheriff Court on Monday charged with drink driving.
A drink too many at a golf charity event saw him drive home with part of a fence he had demolished en route stuck in the framework of his car.

The Leader of the SNP on Dumfries and Galloway Council, who spent the weekend in police cells, was found by officers on Friday night sitting in his wrecked car outside his home, 'Davaar' in Royal Crescent, Stranraer, smelling of alcohol after leaving a trail of destruction behind him on the A75 Euro-Route.

The embarrassed Councillor stood before Sheriff Tom Millar to plead guilty to the three charges.

The Sheriff fined the SNP Leader of the Council £900, banned him from driving for two years and recommended that he undertake an Alcohol Rehabilitation Course.

Sixty-one year old Cllr Higgins, who won his seat on the Council at last year's May elections, resigned the following day as the chair of the Wigtown Licensing Board and as Council leader of the SNP.

In a statement to the full Council on Tuesday, Cllr Higgins said: "I have advised the Chief Executive of Dumfries and Galloway Council that on Friday, 16th May 2008 I was charged with a number of road traffic offences.

"I appeared at Stranraer Sheriff Court on Monday 19th May and pled guilty to three charges. That is a matter of public record.

"I accept full responsibility for my actions and the consequences. I deeply regret these offences which, apart from fixed penalties for speeding, is my first and, having learned a very salutary lesson, will be my last. I apologise and have asked for the forgiveness of my family and friends.

"I have advised the Scottish National Party of the situation, and have resigned as leader of the SNP Group on Dumfries and Galloway Council with immediate effect. I have also resigned as Chairman and as a member of the Wigtown Licensing Board.

"I apologise to my constituents and assure them that I shall, as always, make every effort to continue to represent them to the best of my ability as a member of Dumfries and Galloway Council.

"Any damage caused to the reputation of Dumfries and Galloway Council and the Scottish National Party is also deeply regretted."

Cllr Higgins was charged with driving without due care and attention on the A75 near Whitecrook Farm, Glenluce, of losing control of his vehicle, travelling along the nearside verge for 81 metres, colliding with and damaging several road hazard marker posts, then crossing onto the opposite carriageway and colliding with a wire fence and a road diversion sign.

He was also charged with failing to stop at the scene and failing to provide two samples of breath for analysis at Stranraer Police Station.

Depute Procurator Fiscal Kay Jardine told the Court that at 7pm on the night in question Higgins was observed by witnesses at the County Golf Course Clubhouse, near Glenluce, as being "under the influence of alcohol and unsteady on his feet." She said that as Higgins had spent much of the day playing golf, bar staff were surprised at his condition as, to their knowledge, he had only drunk two pints of Guinness. But, as bottles of whisky were among the prizes, the staff assumed the Councillor had been sampling the prizes before deciding to drive the eight miles home to Stranraer.

Half an hour later drivers began phoning the police to report debris strewn across the A75 Euro route near Whitecrook Farm road end, a mile from the golf course exit. Cars were seen taking evasive action to avoid hitting the debris and one driver was witnessed stopping to move the debris off the road. But the inebriated Councillor had continued to drive on into Stranraer where, at 7.40pm, his badly damaged car was picked up by a CCTV operator when turning off London Road into Royal Crescent.

The Fiscal said: "The police arrived to find the accused's car with most of the front bumper missing, the air bags deflated and a wooden stob wedged in the offside wheel arch."

Councillor Higgins was then asked to get out of the car but initially he had difficulty doing this due to the damage to the driver's door. Police reported he was "smelling of alcohol, slurring his words, and unsteady on his feet" and he was taken by police car to Stranraer Police Station.

When there, he was asked to provide two specimens of breath for analysis, but the Cllr sucked on the tube instead of blowing into it. He also repeatedly took the tube out of his mouth although instructed not to do so. All attempts to get a satisfactory sample failed and the Cllr was accused by the police of "non co-operation." But Cllr Higgins had replied that he had not failed to co-operate, but his attempts to give a sample were compromised by his need to go to the toilet.

His defence solicitor Paul Feeney said in mitigation that his client was a hard working councillor who was embarrassed to find himself in court for the first time, after driving for 45 years. He said the Councillor recollects having a drink with friends at the golf course but admitted it was an "unexplained act of folly" to then drive home, compounded by his failure to stop after the accident. Mr Feeney added that by the time Cllr Higgins was taken to the Police Station he was in a "state of shock and disorientation" and had little recollection of his attempts to give a breath sample.

The lawyer concluded: "This is a sorry incident and Mr Higgins wants to put it behind him as soon as possible."

Mr Higgins has served Wigtownshire as a Councillor for 15 years.


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