A former police dog handler of the year who was found drunk slumped over the wheel of her van with her service dogs in the back has avoided an immediate prison sentence.

Helen Kane, of the Northumbria Force, was woken up by a passer-by who found her in Whickham, Tyne and Wear, and then reported her when she drove off.

Kane, who had served for 14 years and was Police Dog Handler of the Year in 2019, was three times over the drink-drive limit, Teesside Crown Court heard.

The 38-year-old, who was sacked from the force by the Chief Constable Winton Keenan, is now unemployed but helping to train Guide Dogs for the Blind.

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Ian West, prosecuting, said the defendant had signed up with Alcoholics Anonymous before the night time incident in uniform on November 21 last year.

Stephen Reid, in mitigation, said that police culture prevented her from seeking help because she feared that she would lose her ‘dream job’.

The ex-officer was breath tested at Southwick Police Station in Sunderland and gave a reading of 117 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath -the legal limit being 35 micrograms.

Judge Jonathan Carroll told her: “You put yourself in the position where not only could you not support your dogs but you could not support your colleagues if they had called upon you.”

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Kane, from Belmont, Durham, was given a six-months prison sentence suspended for two years, an alcohol treatment requirement for 12 months, 15 days rehabilitation activity requirement days and 120 hours unpaid work.

The former officer was found guilty of misconduct trial in public office following a trial at Teesside Magistrates’ Court.

Kane, who also pleaded guilty to driving with excess alcohol, was disqualified from driving for 24 months.