A LATE night driver seen by police entering Accrington cemetery said he had gone there to pray because he didn’t want members of his family to catch coronavirus.

Blackburn magistrates heard Paul Geoffrey Roberts was breathalysed and gave a reading of 88 against the legal limit of 35.

One month later when he was breathalysed after crashing his car he gave a roadside reading of 169 and then refused to give a sample at the police station.

And the court was told Roberts had six previous drink-drive convictions, although none of them in the last 10 years.

Roberts, 48, of Surrey Street, Accrington, pleaded guilty to driving with excess alcohol and failing to provide a specimen for analysis. He was made subject to a community order for 18 months with a six months alcohol treatment requirement and 25 days rehabilitation activity requirement. He was banned from driving for 18 months, fined £25 and ordered to pay £85 costs and £95 victim surcharge.

Scott Parker, prosecuting, said police on duty in Burnley Road, Accrington, saw a silver Clio at 11.05 pm and followed as it pulled into the cemetery.

“The defendant was the driver and when he was asked why he had entered the cemetery he said he wanted to pray because he didn’t want his family members to get coronavirus,” said Mr Parker.

“The officer noticed his speech was slurred and there were a number of empty beer cans in the car.”

Roberts was charged with the offence and bailed to appear in court on May 28. On May 24 police received reports of a drink driver on Sandy Lane.

When they arrived they found the same silver Clio which had crashed. Witnesses said the driver had left the scene and Roberts was located staggering along Garfield Street heading in the direction of his home address.

After giving a roadside breath test in excess of five time the legal limit he was taken to hospital for assessment before being taken to the police station where he refused to give an evidential sample.

Ian Huggan, defending, said his clients last conviction was in 2008 and he appeared to have sorted things out.

“In 2019 his teenage daughter was diagnosed with cancer which resulted in the amputation of a leg,” said Mr Huggan.

“He tried to remain strong, for the sake of his daughter, but when lock-down came in March he started drinking again.”

Mr Huggan said on the first occasion Roberts had gone to the cemetery, where a number of family members were buried, to pray.

“In May he wasn’t the driver but that doesn’t give him a defence to the charge of failing to provide a specimen when requested,” said Mr Huggan.