Northern Ireland

Tom Elliott: Judge criticises Ulster Unionist MP for letter sent to court in support of former soldier

Scales of Justice
Image caption Tom Elliott wrote a letter in support of a former soldier convicted of driving while disqualified

The Ulster Unionist MP, Tom Elliott, has been criticised by a judge over a testimonial he provided for a former soldier who was caught driving while disqualified.

District Judge John Meehan did not name Mr Elliott in court.

However, the judge said the testimonial "crossed the line on the independence of the court".

Mr Elliott's letter made a case for the man to be spared a suspended sentence.

The judge said that, "to trespass upon the very sentencing process is as though to influence the court".

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP's letter was written for 37-year-old Andrew David Scarlett, of Granville Road in Dungannon.

In it, Mr Elliott said Scarlett would give a commitment not to drive while disqualified again.

He had been caught driving while he was disqualified and without insurance. A suspended sentence is the usual penalty for such offences.

Image caption Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott has been criticised by a judge over a letter he wrote in support of a former soldier caught driving while disqualified

Issues

Mr Elliott argued that Scarlett had a number of issues in life as a result of his time in the services, but Judge Meehan said his letter went too far.

"There is a clear indication here that a suspended sentence is unfair or disagreeable," he said. "This testimonial should not be before me.

"Solicitors are officers of the court. I ask solicitors not to present such improper correspondence to the court".

Addressing Scarlett he said: "It was foolhardy to drive. You knew you were disqualified in 2014. You are in defiance of a court order.

"Given the notorious dangers of a person who is unsuitable to be on the road, the public must be assured of a stern response. The court must also ensure its policy is not compromised."

Scarlett was sentenced to three months suspended for two years and disqualified from driving for a further two years.

Controversy

This is the second time in as many weeks that Mr Elliott has become embroiled in controversy over references for former soldiers.

Earlier this month, he denied allegations that he had provided a character reference for convicted benefit cheat Clive Miller.

He did reveal that he had written a letter to the court , but he refused to reveal its contents and would only say it was not a character reference.

He said he intended to write to the Lord Chief Justice for clarification on exactly how his letter had been used in court.

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