Derby

Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett sentenced for drink-driving

Mason Bennett (left) and Tom Lawrence (right) Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Mason Bennett (left) and Tom Lawrence (right) were arrested after a crash in the Allestree area of Derby

Derby County footballers Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett have avoided jail after pleading guilty to drink-driving.

The pair were over the limit when their cars crashed on the A6 near Allestree in Derby after a team-building dinner.

At the city's magistrates' court they also admitted failing to stop at the scene of the crash on 24 September.

Lawrence and Bennett were ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work, given a 12-month community order and banned from driving for two years.

District Judge Jonathan Taaffe had warned them a prison sentence was an option, as passengers were in the cars and they had left the scene.

Sentencing, he said the "intelligent and talented young men" had "brought shame upon yourselves, your family, your profession and your club".

Marianne Connally, prosecuting, said the players were driving home at about 23:30 BST after a night out at the Joiner's Arms pub.

Lawrence's car smashed into the back of Bennett's, before continuing across a roundabout and hitting "street furniture", she added.

Image copyright Derbyshire Police
Image caption The club said the pair had been fined the maximum their contracts would allow

Ms Connally said a paramedic crew witnessed the crash "entirely by chance" and came to the aid of two passengers at the scene as the defendants fled.

Lawrence and Bennett, 23, returned to the scene about 45 minutes later and were arrested.

Derby captain Richard Keogh, who was a passenger in one of the cars, sustained a knee injury that has ruled him out for up to 15 months.

The court heard Welsh international Lawrence, 25, gave a breath test reading of 58mcg per 100ml and Bennett a reading of 64. The legal limit is 35mcg per 100ml.

Lucy Whitaker, defending Bennett, said he had been sick at the pub after being "pressured" to drink a Jagerbomb shot by team-mates.

He admitted he had drunk "some alcohol", but was driving "perfectly normally" when the crash occurred, she said.

Bennett "panicked" and then left the scene, before returning after he received a call from Lawrence, the court heard.

Shaun Draycott, defending Lawrence, said references - including from Wales manager Ryan Giggs - suggested he was a "decent young man who behaved out of character".

Mr Draycott said Lawrence had become "quite dependent" on alcohol since the death of his mother, to whom he was very close.

Lawrence had made a "gross error of judgement" which is a "matter of extreme regret", he added.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Richard Keogh has been ruled out for 15 months due to an injury sustained in the crash

The district judge told Lawrence, of Duffield, and Bennett, of Whaley Thorns near Mansfield, someone could have died in the crash.

"Many of the supporters who pay their money to watch you will be incredulous that professional athletes on a so-called team-building day during the season are drinking and then taking the decision to drive," he said.

He told them the most aggravating feature was that they "left the scene when a fellow professional was injured in one of the vehicles".

The decision to leave may have been an act of panic or "perhaps to save your own skins, when you realised the magnitude of what had occurred", the judge added.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The players made no comment as they left court after the hearing

Lawrence signed for Derby from Leicester City for £5m in August 2017, while Bennett came through the Rams' youth system.

The pair were fined six weeks' wages by the club after the crash - the maximum their contracts would allow.

Ch Insp Jim Thompson, head of roads policing at Derbyshire Police, said: "The actions of Mason Bennett and Tom Lawrence on that night were reckless, selfish and could easily have led to a loss of life.

"My officers have to speak to the loved ones of victims of drink drivers and I hope the pair think long and hard about their actions and what could have been."

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