A BANNED young motorist put nine people's lives at risk after taking to the wheel of a car after drinking at a young farmers' function.

In “a moment of madness” Henry Walton insisted the designated driver pull over as he and three friends made their way home from a 'Boogie in the Barn', Durham Crown Court was told.

Shortly after taking the wheel of the Audi A3, he hit a kerb at high speed and burst a tyre before veering across the road, almost hitting a police van on Newton Cap viaduct, near Bishop Auckland.

Loading article content

Four officers, who were talking to a distressed man who had previously threatened to jump from the 100-ft high viaduct, were themsleves forced to run for safety.

Liam O'Brien, prosecuting, said one of the policemen, who described it as the closest he had come to death, said sparks were coming from the approaching car, which sounded like a jet engine.

It went through railings, sending debris flying onto a house beneath the viaduct, struck a concrete barrier and was thrown back across the road, where it came to a halt.

Mr O'Brien said the officers ran to assist the four people in the car, Walton, and three passengers, a couple from New Zealand and an Irish woman, who were all taken to hospital. None was seriously hurt.

Walton had borrowed the Audi from an aunt, who was unaware he was banned from driving.

He said Walton made a token effort to provide a breath specimen and later pretended he was disorientated when police tried to take a blood sample for hospital analysis, despite appearing “coherent” when talking to medical staff.

The 26-year-old, of The Green, Cockfield, near Barnard Castle, County Durham, admitted dangerous driving, while disqualified and without insurance, plus failing to provide a breath specimen.

The court heard it was his third offence of failing to provide a breath specimen within six months, and he had been banned from driving for the first of those offences only 19 days earlier.

Ian West, mitigating, presented 11 character testimonials to the court.

He said Walton, from a good family background, “went off the rails” over that six-month period while mixing with “hard-drinking party animals”.

But he said he was now working hard for an employer in Darlington and assisting at a Barnard Castle charity shop.

Jailing him for 18 months, Recorder Simon Jackson told Walton: “This was a dreadful piece of driving, whereby only by an act of God people weren't wiped out.”

Walton was also banned from driving for three years and must pass an extended test if he is ever to regain his licence.