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Ballymena man found guilty of drink driving despite e-cigarette vaping claim

By Nevin Farrell

Published 01/09/2016

Aaron Galbraith is pictured leaving Ballymena Magistrate Court on Thursday where he was convicted of drink driving after a contest in which he claimed products in an e-cig put him over the limit. Photo by Mark Jamieson
Aaron Galbraith is pictured leaving Ballymena Magistrate Court on Thursday where he was convicted of drink driving after a contest in which he claimed products in an e-cig put him over the limit. Photo by Mark Jamieson

A Ballymena man who told a court that alcohol in an e-cigarette had caused a breathalyser to show he was over the drink-drive limit has lost his case.

Chef Aaron Galbraith (35) said he was “shocked” after he was banned from driving for three years and fined £300 yesterday.

It is believed to be the first time in the UK that a defendant has used ‘vaping’ as a defence against drink-driving.

Puffing on his e-cig outside Ballymena Courthouse gates, Galbraith said he was considering appealing the decision.

As he faced a two-mile walk home from the court to Dunluce Park, he insisted to reporters he had not been drinking, but had been vaping before and after the accident, including shortly before the breathalyser test.

Galbraith said because he had a previous drink-driving offence from 10 years ago, it meant that he would never have taken the wheel again if he had consumed drink.

His defence team brought in a scientist who claimed it was possible the e-cigarette had put him over the limit.

District Judge Des Perry said although he was not discarding the evidence given in court by expert witness Michael John Walker — a private consultant in analytical measurement science — nothing he had put forward cast any doubt on the findings of the police who noted Galbraith was unsteady and slurring his speech at the roadside.

He also noted that the defendant had held down a job despite smoking e-cigarettes.

Judge Perry said he was “inclined to take the view that the possibility of e-cigarettes causing anything of this nature is remote in the extreme” and therefore the driving with excess alcohol charge was proven.

The court was told that police received a report at 12.05am in November last year of a collision at Tully Road near Ballymena.

They arrived 10 minutes later to find the defendant standing beside the vehicle. He told an officer he lost control because of the weather conditions.

A police officer noted he was unsteady on his feet and his speech was slurred.

Defence barrister Stephen Law said Galbraith was vaping before a preliminary breath test at the scene, which he failed.

He was then driven to Coleraine Police Station and Mr Law said his client again vaped in the foyer before breath tests were carried out at around 1.55am. They showed an alcohol reading of 65 with the legal limit being 35.

A prosecutor said the defendant had been asked before the test if he had inhaled anything in the previous 20 minutes and he said no. She said he should have told the truth.

Galbraith told the court he would use up to 35 millilitres of e-cigarette fluid a day but had never felt any ill-effects before.

Mr Walker told the court that literature shows around two-thirds of e-cigarettes contain ethanol (alcohol) and said it was a “possibility” that up until 15 minutes after vaping there was a chance condensed ethanol in the airway could give a misleadingly high breathalyser reading.

A prosecutor then asked Mr Walker if he accepted it was highly unlikely a breathalyser reading of 65 had anything to do with vaping.

The scientist accepted it was unlikely, but said there was a “residual possibility, quite low on the spectrum”.

After the hearing, Galbraith said he was “shocked” at the outcome.

“The vape put me over the limit, it gave a false breathalyser reading,” he insisted.

He said the accident was caused by it being a wet night and that the back of the car had “just slid out”.

Galbraith is still vaping. “It is either that or go back on the cigarettes, and I don’t want to go back to them,” he said.

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