Shamed ex-Sheffield United star wins appeal over prison sentence
Shamed former Sheffield United star Dean Saunders has won an appeal over his prison sentence after he was jailed for failing to take a breath test.
The 55-year-old former Blades striker, who also managed Doncaster Rovers, was stopped by police on suspicion of drink-driving and refused to be breathalysed.
He claimed to have only had ‘one pint’ but was told by one police officer ‘You can't even stand up,’ in footage of his arrest released by the authorities.
The father-of-three had been pulled over in his Audi A8 for his ‘atrocious’ driving - speeding, swerving over the white line and causing other vehicles to brake - in the early hours of May 10 in Chester city centre, a court heard when he was convicted over the summer.
His speech was slurred and he smelled of alcohol.
Saunders, who also played for Liverpool, Aston Villa and Derby, refused to give a breath specimen at the roadside and continued his ‘obstructive and evasive’ behaviour at the police station, repeatedly refusing to give a specimen of breath.
He was jailed for 10 weeks on August 28 at Chester Magistrates' Court after admitting failing to comply with a roadside breath test and failing to provide a breath specimen.
But his lawyers secured his release on bail a day later, after Saunders spent a night in HMP Altcourse, Liverpool, until his appeal against the jail sentence.
Saunders sat in the dock with his head down at Chester Crown Court for his 90-minute appeal hearing today.
Judge Steven Everett, Honorary Recorder of Chester, sitting with two magistrates, viewed the bodycam footage of the defendant at the police station following his arrest.
It showed exasperated police officers repeatedly explaining to Saunders that he would be breaking the law if he did not provide a specimen immediately.
Saunders repeatedly told the officers he would only take a test after his solicitor arrived, adding: "Arrest me if you want."
Judge Everett said he believed Saunders had ‘had a lot to drink’ when stopped by police and ‘prevaricated’ over taking a breath test before his solicitor arrived so the reading would be lower.
His ‘unsatisfactory behaviour’ continued, the judge said, and he had taken the ‘entirely wrong approach’ at the magistrates' court in telling probation officers that he could not do work in the community because of his job as a TV pundit travelling the country watching football matches.
The court heard that Saunders was now willing to carry out community service and the only other realistic option was serving a sentence in jail.
Judge Everett said the district judge had been right to jail Saunders but, because of his previous good character and the prospect of rehabilitation, meant he could suspend the jail sentence for 18 months.
He also ordered Saunders to do 200 hours' work in the community.
The ex-player's 30-month driving ban remains.
Passing sentence, he added: "The sheer shame is going to live with you for the rest of your life.
"You should literally hang your head in shame by what you did.
"You have had your chance, I suggest you take it.
"I suggest you take the opportunity to tell others that it really isn't worth it. Drink-driving is a terrible thing. Don't."
Alistair Webster QC, representing Saunders, said this was a ‘paradigm case’ for suspending a prison sentence and the defendant had been unable to watch the footage of his arrest.
The barrister said: "It feels, when one looks at the man and his life, past this one evening, disproportionate and unnecessary.
"He has had the experience of going into prison.
"As he was walking into prison, people were shouting threats from the windows.
"He found conditions extremely unpleasant, in terms of a dirty mattress, but the prison staff were good to him.
"Happily he was granted bail but it has been a very salutary lesson.
"He feels he's let everyone down badly and wants to offer a public apology."
Mr Webster said Saunders is ‘not a man who plays the law’ and it was a ‘serious misjudgment’ not to provide a specimen rather than an attempt to flout the law.
He said Saunders had been capped 75 times by Wales - a record number of times - scored 22 goals for his country, was at one time the record-holder for the highest transfer fee paid for a British player, and was an "icon" in the game.
He added: "He's really become a laughing stock and feels it acutely.
"He's not been able to watch (the footage) before because he feels overwhelming humiliation by everything that happened."
References for Saunders, speaking of the charity work he does, were supplied, including letters from his former manager at Liverpool, Graeme Souness, and Richard Bevan, chairman of the League Managers Association (LMA).
The reference from Mr Souness stated that Saunders was "not in any way a drinker or a gambler, he was thoroughly dedicated", said Mr Webster.
And the LMA is to use Saunders in a project so that "lessons can be learned" from his experience, the court was told.
Saunders left court without comment, saying only that a statement would be released on the LMA website later on Friday.