Barbara Woodward, 56, (pictured outside Stockport Magistrates Court yesterday) said the paved track to her luxury rural home – thought to be up to a quarter of a mile long – was so vast she would ‘struggle’ to get about
A wealthy widow on trial for drink-driving sparked guffaws in a courtroom when she claimed she needed her car as it was too far to walk – down her own driveway.
Barbara Woodward, 56, from Chelford in Cheshire, said the paved track to her luxury rural home – thought to be up to a quarter of a mile long – was so vast she would ‘struggle’ to get about.
She was found to be three times the alcohol limit at 9am when she went out in her £79,000 Mercedes G-class 4×4 to buy sparkling wine from a nearby store with which she hoped to make bucks fizz for friends.
Police were called after she was refused alcohol at a petrol station before seen driving at just 5mph to a nearby post office close to her sprawling compound.
One officer said she was so drunk she appeared to have been up all night – with make-up smudged across her face.
At Stockport magistrates court, Woodward initially urged JPs through her lawyer to postpone a road ban saying the length of her driveway meant she would have to ‘make lifestyle changes to go about her day-to-day life.’
She also asked to be spared doing unpaid work claiming it would ‘put her in an alien surrounding’ as she never worked in her life and warned it would ‘make her feel uncomfortable and out of her depth.’
Woodward pleaded not guilty of driving was excess alcohol, but was convicted and banned from driving for two years. However, JPs spared the unpaid work.
The incident occurred at last November 17 two days after Woodward had attended the funeral of her husband – a lawyer who died following an undisclosed illness.
Petrol station attendant Sharid Butt told the hearing: ‘I saw the 4×4 driving really slowly. She drove sharply to one pump then it seemed like she changed her mind and drove to the other side at a big of an angle.
‘The lady got out of the car and was stumbling all over the forecourt. She came into the shop and hit herself into the fridge where we keep the wine.
‘She grabbed three bottles of different wines then she stumbled over to the counter to pay me for them. She didn’t seem right and I knew she was drunk.
Woodward initially urged JPs through her lawyer to postpone a road ban saying the length of her driveway (pictured yesterday) meant she would have to ‘make lifestyle changes’
‘I asked her if she was alright and she said she was fine, I then said “you seem like you’re drunk and I am not going to serve you”.
‘She then said “just give me one or two bottles then” but I refused and told her she was drunk and I wasn’t going to sell them to her.
‘She slurred her words when she spoke. She then left the shop and stumbled back to her car. She got into the car and started driving really slowly. Much slower than you would expect, around 5mph.
‘It took her a long time to drive on to the adjoining road even though there was no traffic. Then when she reached the roundabout she drove towards the post office and went inside for about five minutes.
‘She came back out of the shop and she was staggering again and I called the police. I was really worried for other people’s safety and I knew she was drunk, I had to call them.’
Police found Woodward slumped in her seat with a sandwich, her dog and two unopened bottles of wine next to her.
She initially blew a reading which showed her being almost four times the limit but a subsequent test at the police station showed she had 104 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, the legal limit is 35mg.
PC Richard Walker said: ‘ She was slurring her words and she was very incoherent. She looked like she had been up all night, she had makeup smudged across her face.’
Woodward was also ordered to complete a 12 month community order, was fined £560 and pay £705 in costs and surcharges. Pictured: The paved track leading to her home
Woodward who denied drink driving told the court she only started drinking wine when she bought the bottles from the post office – and she claimed she threw two empty half bottles away before police arrived.
She told the hearing: ‘I buried my husband on Wednesday 15th November and the months leading up to it were terrible. He did everything, and then when he died I had to take over. I had never paid a bill in my life.
‘He just withered away in front of me. He was so poorly, I was completely worn out and I couldn’t sleep or eat. On the day of the funeral I only had one glass of wine.
‘I was unstable on my feet because I broke a bone in my foot 18 months ago and I have been struggling to walk ever since.
‘I was so tired and sore that day and I wanted to get something in to give to people. I don’t have wine in the house, or something sparkly to make Buck’s Fizz with.’
She added: ‘It only took me four minutes to get to the petrol station. I was driving really carefully. I’ve never had this happen to me in my whole life. I said I was fine.
‘I was upset, nobody had ever refused to serve me before. I went into the shop and got back in my car. I just broke down. I was so tired.
‘I bought a sandwich at the shop and two bottles of wine and I just drank them there in the car. I threw the empty bottles under my coat – I was just so distraught.
‘I have never and will never drive after having a drink. I know it was wrong to have a drink in the car but I was desperate to get rid of the pain I was feeling.’
Her lawyer Nigel Beeson told the hearing: ‘This lady has quite a large front drive, it is a quarter of a mile from the road and it would be difficult for her – she would have to make some lifestyle changes to go about her day-to-day life.
He added: ‘She is a lady of mature years who has led a blameless life and has somehow found herself breaking the law due to personal tragedy.
Police were called after she was refused alcohol at a petrol station before seen driving at just 5mph to a nearby post office close to her sprawling compound (pictured)
‘If it had been me I think I would have been eligible for unpaid work – it wouldn’t impact on me as I like to think I am physically fit and mentally stable.
‘But this lady is still suffering from the tragedy of losing her husband and getting used to life on her own. You have to be wary of this.
‘She is already in a strange enough situation for her and giving her unpaid work would put her in an alien surrounding and would make her feel uncomfortable and out of her depth. She has never worked and putting her in this situation will affect her mental health.
‘She had nobody to call upon, no children, no relatives, yes she has friends, but they are dotted around the countryside. She has no neighbours and she will struggle to get around.
‘She has set up an account with a taxi firm who can supply transport 24/7, so she accepts she will lose her license. But she knows what she did was wrong and accepts she drank at the wheel.’
A report by an unnamed probation officer said: ‘ At the time of the offence she was experiencing and still is, huge trauma and stress related to the illness and unfortunate death of her husband.
‘He passed away in October and his illness started in January of last year. The funeral took place two days before the offence.
‘She went out to buy alcohol because she had friends coming over and she liked to make sure they had something to drink
‘This was completely out of character for her. I still believe she is struggling now, she comes across as a vulnerable and fragile lady. She doesn’t drink ever. Her husband never drank, they didn’t have alcohol in the house.
‘It was just her and her husband, they had no children and no close family. They had a very close relationship. He worked and supported her whilst she looked after the home.
‘She has never had to pay a bill her life. She has never worked. He looked after her practically and emotionally in every way. She is now struggling, not only facing life without him, but having to do things that she’s never done before.
‘They were together from when she was 16 years old. She has never had financial issues, she is scared at the situation she finds herself in. She is still grieving.
‘I challenged her about why she felt the need to go out in rush hour traffic at 9am on a Friday morning to buy wine and she accepts she was in a vulnerable situation. She is now facing things on her own, she is frightened and vulnerable.
‘She is disorientated from the grieving process. She has never worked, she is a mature lady and I don’t think she would benefit from unpaid work or a curfew. She is already struggling at home and I don’t believe a curfew will help.
‘Due to the fact she hasn’t worked, she would find herself in an alien situation and I believe this would add to her stress and mental wellbeing.’
Woodward was also ordered to complete a 12 month community order, was fined £560 and pay £705 in costs and surcharges.
JPs told her: ‘We have thought about this and accept your mitigation. This is a difficult situation for you- please do not do it again.’
Woodward did not comment after the hearing.