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Fabrice misses joy of prison

last updated Wednesday 06th October 2004, 8:32 PM

Footballer Fabrice Fernandes narrowly escaped jail on Wednesday after ignoring a string of red traffic lights during a police chase.

The Southampton winger, who had spent the evening drinking vodka at a nightclub, was nearly twice the drink-drive limit in his Porsche Cayenne.

Ex-Fulham midfielder Fabrice Fernandes
Ex-Fulham midfielder Fabrice Fernandes

By that time the player, said to have "panicked" when pursuing officers switched on their blue lights, jumped four sets of signals, London's Southwark Crown Court heard.

The tanned 24-year-old Frenchman stood with his head bowed as Judge George Bathurst-Norman said the circumstances of the case, although "extremely serious", meant he could just avoid sending him to prison.

"I give you credit for the fact that from the very outset of this matter you have acknowledged your guilt."

Had he pleaded not guilty to the dangerous driving count he faced, jail would have been inevitable.

It was "perhaps to your good fortune" no-one had made a note just how fast he had been travelling or knew why a bus had screeched to a halt at one point during the mile-long chase through central London.

In any event it was to his credit that he finally obeyed some red lights at roadworks.

"In the circumstances any court is bound to view the matter as extremely serious and in those circumstances, particularly when one has had too much to drink and you are trying to get away from police, there's every risk of someone being injured and property damaged."

Fernandes was fined £10,000 and given a two-year driving ban.

The judge told the player, of Pacific Close, Southampton, that he had also decided to follow the pre-sentence report recommendation and impose an 18-month rehabilitation order combined with 100 hours of community service.

The judge continued: "Your earnings are very, very substantial indeed and it would be no good me imposing upon you the sort of fine such offences normally attracted. It would be meaningless. So in the circumstances I am going to fine you £10,000 and order you to pay £461 towards prosecution costs.''

After warning him that he faced a six-month jail sentence if the money was not paid within the next two months, the judge said he would also be disqualified from driving for two years.

And before he could reapply for his licence he would have to take an extended driving test.

The footballer, signed by Southampton for £1.1 million just after Christmas 2001, left the dock and went to a consultation room with his QC David Fish.

Mark Fenhalls, prosecuting, told the court that Fernandes was driving along High Holborn just after 4am on May 10 this year when police spotted him.

They decided to pull him over but no sooner had they switched on their lights than Fernandes accelerated "rapidly" away.

The chase, which lasted five minutes, continued into Andrew Borde Street before turning into Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road.

The barrister told the court that although a statement by one of the officers later mentioned him jumping eight red traffic lights, the prosecution were prepared to accept the defence view that it was half that number.

"The officers described the pursuit as involving Mr Fernandes driving 'at speed' and 'high speed'. No precise speed is put.

"The first time his brake lights were used was when he saw some roadworks," said Mr Fenhalls.

"They got out of their vehicle and banged on his door. As soon as he got out of his vehicle they smelt alcohol arrested him and took him back to the police station."

Once there, the player, who was convicted in October last year of careless driving after "clipping" a cyclist, was found to have 61mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath - the

Mr Fish told the court Fernandes played a game on Saturday and stayed overnight in Birmingham with friends.

He had originally intended to return to Southampton on Sunday in readiness for training the next day.

"He had had no alcohol at all on the Sunday and your honour will have seen from some of the written testimonials that he is not a habitual drinker."

In fact, said counsel, his "normal drink is fruit juice, as one would expect from someone who takes his job seriously".

But, said Mr Fish, his offer to give a friend a lift to London sowed the seeds of his confrontation with the police.

Having arrived in the capital, he and a group of others first enjoyed some dinner and then headed off to a nightclub.

It was only then he had some alcohol - five vodkas and Red Bull.

A friend had agreed to drive the player and others the short distance to a hotel but decided to stay at the nightclub. As a result Fernandes unwisely decided to get behind the wheel himself.

"There came a time when he was followed by police and he panicked because he knew he had taken alcohol, and drove off.

"This was not a serious attempt to escape or shake off police and ultimately, when faced with the red lights of those roadworks, he stopped. One supposes he could have driven through them as well," the barrister added.

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