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Drink driver tried to hide in trees after high-speed chase by armed police



An uninsured van driver led police on a high-speed pursuit through residential streets after “panicking” when approached by officers, a court has heard.

With a female passenger sat beside, him Christopher Heale tore through the Penlan and Clase areas of Swansea going the wrong way along one-way streets, not stopping at junctions, and racing through a red traffic light at a major crossroads.

He later abandoned the vehicle and passenger and ran away but was chased by police and found hiding in undergrowth. Not only was he found to be over the drink-drive limit but checks showed he did not hold a licence and was not insured.

Swansea Crown Court heard that in the early hours of February 12 this year a police officer on patrol in the Penlan area of the city saw a Ford Transit being driven at “excessive speed” in Heol Gwyrosydd and turned his car around to follow it.

Dean Pulling, prosecuting, said when the police car caught up with the van it had already stopped near Penlan Social Club and the officer approached the driver – 34-year-old Heale – who was talking on his phone in the cab. The prosecutor said when the officer asked the defendant if he was insured for Transit Heale suddenly sped off. The officer called for back-up and a pursuit ensued with Heale racing around the residential streets of Penlan at speeds hitting 50mph and going through junctions without stopping.

Read more:Chilling footage shows van driver drifting across markings on M4 moments before fatal crash

At one stage he clipped a kerb with the rear wheels of the van causing the back the vehicle to jump into the air. As the chase developed an armed response unit took over the pursuit from the patrol car. Read about a driver who raced along the M4 tailgating other motorists at high speeds and “bullying ” them out of the way while his son and pregnant partner were in the car.

The court heard Heale drove the wrong way down the one-way Roger Street and turned left into Llangyfelach Road where he sped through a red light at the Caersalem crossroads and headed for Clase. He then drove the wrong way around at the junction of Rheidol Avenue and Long View Road before abandoning the van in Beaconsview Road and running away into nearby bushes. The pursuing officers chased him on foot and found him hiding among trees a short distance away. The court heard the defendant apologised to the officers who tracked him down and he told them he was “p****d”.

Heale was arrested at 2.10am and taken to Swansea Central police station where a subsequent breath test showed he had 46mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath with the legal limit being 35mg. In his interview Heale told officers he had drunk between three and five gin and lemonades that evening and knew he was too drunk to drive but hadn’t wanted to take a taxi. He said he had then “panicked” when questioned about insurance by the officer at the roadside as he knew he was not insured for the van. Read about a driver who was worried about losing his licence after being caught on camera using his mobile phone so paid a shadowy “Mr Fix It” to make the problem go awaybut ended up in the dock of a crown court.

Christopher Anthony Heale, formerly of Market Street in Morriston but now of High Street in Swansea city centre, admitted dangerous driving, driving with excess alcohol, failing to stop when required to do so, driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence, and driving with no insurance. He has previous convictions for 15 offences including violence, fly-tipping, and motoring matters. The court heard Heale had been banned from driving for six months in May last year after racking up 12 penalty points on his licence and though that period of disqualification had finished he had not applied to the DVLA to get his licence back.

Andrew Evans, for Heale, said the defendant had been living a “chaotic and transient” lifestyle which had prompted his family to intervene and get him help for his mental health issues. He said the events of February 12 had been a “watershed” moment which had caused his client to reflect on his life, and he said Heale understood the potential consequences of his driving on the night in question. The advocate added that Heale had a job offer from construction firm Jehu.

Judge Paul Thomas QC told Heale he had got behind that wheel knowing he had drunk too much alcohol and knowing he did not have a licence or insurance. He said the defendant had put the safety of his passenger, other road users, and the pursuing police at risk with his actions.

Judge Thomas said were it not a pre-sentence report which concluded that Heale was suitable for a mental health treatment programme he would be sending the defendant straight to prison. In the light of availability of the programme, however, the judge said he was prepared to suspend the term of imprisonment though he added: “I am far from convinced I am taking the right decision. Only time will tell.”

With a one-third discount for his guilty pleas Heale was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for two years and was ordered to complete a mental health treatment programme, a rehabilitation course, and a thinking skills course, and to abide by a 90-day alcohol abstinence monitoring requirement which will see him fitted with an electronic tag to check his intake. He was also banned from driving for two years and must pass an extended test before he can get his licence back. As the defendant left the dock Judge Thomas warned him that if he were to put “one foot out of line” in the next two years he would find himself “in Oystermouth Road” – Swansea prison.

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