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Drink-driving footballers told they brought ‘shame upon club’ as they avoid jail

Derby players Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett were ordered to do 180 hours of unpaid work and were disqualified from driving for two years.

Derby pair Mason Bennett and Tom Lawrence have admitted drink-driving and failing to stop (Jacob King/PA)
Derby pair Mason Bennett and Tom Lawrence have admitted drink-driving and failing to stop (Jacob King/PA)

By Dave Higgens, PA

Two Derby County footballers were told they have brought “shame upon yourselves, your family, your profession and your club” after they admitted drink-driving over a crash which left a team-mate seriously injured.

Wales international Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett were ordered to do 180 hours of unpaid work and were disqualified from driving for two years by a district judge at Derby Magistrates’ Court, who said he had considered jailing the pair.

The court heard how Lawrence, 25, and Bennett, 23, were arrested after Lawrence’s Range Rover crashed into “street furniture” at a roundabout on the A6 near Allestree, Derby, shortly before midnight on September 24.

The crash – which was witnessed by a paramedic crew – left club captain Richard Keogh with a serious leg injury and facing the possibility of being ruled out for the season.

Prosecutor Marianne Connally described how Lawrence and Bennett fled from the scene of the crash, which happened after a team bonding day that finished in the Joiner’s Arms pub in Derby.

But they returned about 45 minutes later and were arrested.

Both players admitted drink-driving and failing to stop at the scene of an accident when they appeared in court on Tuesday wearing identical black suits, white shirts and black ties.

Midfielder Lawrence recorded a breath test reading of 58 microgrammes per 100ml and forward Bennett, 23, recorded a level of 64, the court heard. The legal limit is 35.

District Judge Jonathan Taaffe had warned the players that a prison sentence was an option but he imposed a 12-month community order on both defendants. He also ordered them to pay £175 costs and surcharges.

Mr Taaffe told them: “You are both intelligent and talented young men who have brought shame upon yourselves, your family, your profession and your club.”

The judge said Derby County fans would be “incredulous” at what they had done.

He said: “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.”

The judge accepted that the players “have shown genuine remorse” and said to the defendants: “The fact that you were uninjured is perhaps remarkable.”

The district judge said the most aggravating feature of the case was that “you have left the scene when a fellow professional was injured in the back of one of the vehicles”.

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 and it would “mess with his head”.

A second probation officer said that Bennett was “extremely concerned about the prospect of a custodial sentence” and the effect it would have on his four-year-old daughter.

The court heard how a passenger in Lawrence’s car was treated for facial injuries but it was not made clear whether this was Mr Keogh or another person.

Lucy Whitaker, defending Bennett, said at one point in the night her client had a Jagerbomb shot bought for him which made him sick.

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 Lawrence had become “quite dependent” on alcohol since the recent death of his mother, to whom he was very close.

Earlier this month, the football club fined the pair the “equivalent of six weeks’ wages” and both players also issued apologies.

Neither commented as they left court on Tuesday, accompanied by police officers, and got into waiting cars.

PA

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