Drink-driver five times over limit spared jail after blaming COVID for habit

·2-min read
Caroline Pritchard (facing camera) outside Worcester Magistrates Court. (SWNS)
Caroline Pritchard (facing camera) outside Worcester Magistrates Court. (SWNS)

A drink-driver who blamed COVID restrictions for her boozing has been spared jail despite being almost five times the legal alcohol limit.

Caroline Pritchard, 56, was caught by police who received a tip-off when she drunkenly drove home from a doctor’s appointment in Worcester.

Roadside tests found Pritchard had 159 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath – almost five times the legal limit of 35mcg.

She admitted to drink driving at Worcester Magistrates’ Court and was given a 12-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, after JPs heard she used alcohol “as a crutch” to cope with the pandemic.

Pritchard was also banned from driving for three years and ordered to pay £135 costs and a £128 victim surcharge last Thursday.

The court heard Pritchard, of Worcester, was caught after she weaved her way home on 29 October.

Mark Hambling, prosecuting, said: “The (alcohol) reading fell within the top bracket of any sentencing guidelines - a reading of 120 to 150 and above with this being in the 'and above' category.”

Magistrates heard Pritchard started drinking spirits every day during the lockdown and suffered from anxiety.

Jo Outhwaite, defending, said: “She has been suffering increasing problems with anxiety due to the impact of COVID-19 which had prevented her seeing her daughter, a nurse in London, and also her mother who is in a nursing home.

"Consequently she started to consume increasing amounts of alcohol to cope with the stress.”

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Mrs Outhwaite told magistrates that Pritchard suffered a panic attack on 12 January and was “unable to breathe properly, hyperventilating and could not move”.

She said: "She was frozen where she was.

"She stated she has always consumed alcohol in moderation. This only started to become a problem at the beginning of 2021.

"It's fair to say Mrs Prichard falls within the top bracket within the sentencing guidelines. She confirms her drinking over the last 18 months has increased.

"She was at the lowest point she felt she could be and had been using alcohol as a crutch. Everything just spilled out."

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