Derby pair avoid jail but get two-year ban for drink-driving
Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett in court over incident which saw Richard Keogh injured
Derby County footballer Tom Lawrence arrives at Derby Magistrates’ Court where he is appearing on charges of drink-driving alongside teammate Mason Bennett. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire
Two Derby County footballers have avoided prison after they admitted drink-driving over a crash which left their club captain seriously injured.
Wales international Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett were detained by police after the incident on the A6 near Allestree, Derby, shortly before midnight on September 24th.
Both players admitted drink-driving and failing to stop at the scene of an accident when they appeared at Derby Magistrates Court on Tuesday.
District Judge Jonathan Taaffee had warned the players that a prison sentence was an option but the men walked free from court after probation services told the hearing of concerns they would struggle in custody.
He imposed a 12-month community order on both defendants, ordering them to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work, and banned them from driving for two years.
The judge told them both: “You are extremely fortunate to be here today.
“You had been drinking and have been involved in a road traffic collision that could have led to death.”
He said: “You are both intelligent and talented young men who have brought shame upon yourselves, your family, your profession and your club.”
Mr Taaffe said Derby County fans would be “incredulous” at what they had done.
Midfielder Lawrence, 25, recorded a breath test reading of 58 microgrammes per 100ml and forward Bennett, 23, recorded a level of 64. The legal limit is 35.
Club captain and Ireland defender Richard Keogh suffered a serious leg injury in the crash, involving a Range Rover Sport and a Mercedes, and could be ruled out for the rest of the season.
Earlier the court heard from a probation officer, who said that Lawrence had told her he thought he would lose his job if he were jailed.
She said he also said he thought prison would “mess with his head”.
A second probation officer said that Bennett was “extremely concerned about the prospect of a custodial sentence”.
She said the player told her he thought he would struggle with prison and he worried about the effect it would have on his four-year-old daughter.
Prosecutor Marianne Connally earlier told the court both players were driving home at about 11.30pm following a night out at the Joiner’s Arms pub in Derby.
Ms Connally said Lawrence’s vehicle went into the rear of Bennett’s car, causing some damage.
She said Lawrence’s car then went across a roundabout and collided with “street furniture”.
The prosecutor said a paramedic crew witnessed the crash “entirely by chance” and came to the aid of two passengers left at the scene in Lawrence’s vehicle as the defendants fled.
One man was treated for facial injuries at the roadside.
Bennett left in his own car before the pair returned to the scene about 45 minutes later and were arrested by police, the prosecutor said.
Lucy Whitaker, defending Bennett, said at one point in the night her client had a Jagerbomb shot bought for him which made him sick.
Ms Whitaker said her client was driving “perfectly normally” on the way home and it was a “complete shock” to him when a car went into the back of him at the Burley Hill roundabout, near Allestree.
Ms Whitaker said: “He did then panic.”
She said that, after he left the scene, he got a call from Lawrence asking him to pick him up from a garage and they returned to the roundabout.
Shaun Draycott, representing Lawrence, said references — including from Wales manager Ryan Giggs — testified to his client being a “decent young man who behaved out of character”.
Mr Draycott said: “He damaged his vehicle, he damaged somebody else, he damaged his own reputation.”
He said Lawrence had become “quite dependent” on alcohol since the death of his mother, to whom he was very close.
He said his mother’s death “has impacted greatly on this young man’s psychological health.”
Earlier this month, the football club fined the pair the “equivalent of six weeks’ wages” and condemned them for bringing the club into disrepute.
Both players also issued public apologies.