Police-chase crash driver spared jail

A MOTORIST who was in a coma for nine days after his car crashed into another vehicle and burst into flames following a high-speed police chase has escaped an immediate prison sentence because of his injuries.

A MOTORIST who was in a coma for nine days after his car crashed into another vehicle and burst into flames following a high-speed police chase has escaped an immediate prison sentence because of his injuries.

James Ratcliffe, 23, who arrived at Ipswich Crown Court on crutches yesterday, spent three months in intensive care and was thought unlikely to survive following the accident in January.

Sentencing him for a string of offences including dangerous driving, Judge John Holt told Ratcliffe that the crimes deserved a sentence of imprisonment.

However, after hearing that the defendant was still having physiotherapy twice a week and speech therapy once a week Judge Holt said he had decided “perhaps against my better judgement” to suspend the prison sentence to enable Ratcliffe to continue his recovery.

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Ratcliffe of The Crescent, Great Horkesley, was jailed for 64 weeks suspended for two years and banned from driving for five years. He was ordered to take a driving retest at the end of the ban.

“If these injuries have made you turn over a new leaf you will hear no more about the offences - if you don't, it will be most likely that you will serve the sentence I am suspending,” said Judge Holt.

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The judge also paid tribute to the bravery of Pc Jeff McIlroy who pulled Ratcliffe and his girlfriend and the driver of a car hit by Ratcliffe's car from the burning wreckage of their vehicles.

Judge Holt said that if it hadn't been for the officer's quick actions Ratcliffe and his girlfriend could have burnt to death and 59-year-old Robert Parker could have suffered more serious injuries.

After yesterday's hearing Mr Parker of Foxhall Road, Ipswich said that he felt he was lucky to be alive after the accident, in which he suffered bad internal bruising to his chest.

He was checking to see if he had any broken bones Pc McIlroy had come over, told him to get out of the vehicle because it was on fire. “I was struggling to get out and he helped me,” said Mr Parker.

He said that the accident had taken longer to get over psychologically than physically. “It has made me more aware when I'm driving of other vehicles coming out when you don't expect them.”

Of Ratcliffe, Mr Parker added: “I think it is a good thing that he has something hanging over him.”

Ratcliffe was committed to the crown court for sentence for offences of dangerous driving, failing to stop when required, driving while disqualified, driving without insurance, driving with no test certificate, having a defective tyre, possessing criminal property and obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty.

Ian Pells, prosecuting said that Pc McIlroy had initially stopped Ratcliffe while he was driving the Vauxhall Calibra on December 14 and the defendant had given a false name.

A month later on January 13 the officer saw the same car being driven on the A14 at Wherstead and after it left the road at the Nacton interchange he had indicated for the vehicle to stop.

The car had stopped but when PC McIlroy started to walk over it had driven off at speed with the officer in pursuit.

On two occasions the car had overtaken on a blind bend and had driven at between 40 and 70 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour limit in Nacton Village.

The car had eventually come to the junction of the Old Felixstowe Road at Nacton and instead of stopping at a give way sign the car had driven into the path of the people carrier driven by Mr Parker.

The court heard that Ratcliffe had appeared in court on 19 previous occasions for a total of 54 offences including driving matters.

Lucy Osborn for Ratcliffe said that her client had suffered serious injuries in the accident and had lost his memory. “He has no recollection of his life from January 13,” she said.

She said Ratcliffe was in a coma for nine days and spent three months in intensive care. “At times he was thought unlikely to survive his injuries,” she said.

Ms Osborn said that Ratcliffe felt ashamed at his previous history of offences and felt genuine regret at causing injury to Mr Parker.

“The accident has been a turning point in his life and his attitude has changed enormously,” said Ms Osborn.

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