Drink-driving Australian tourist crashed into Sidmouth councillor’s home after ‘swerving to avoid squirrel’

Exeter Magistrates Court

Exeter Magistrates Court - Credit: Archant

A drink-driver crashed into the Sidmouth home of a councillor with responsibility for road safety, a court heard.

Australian tourist Helen Barretto caused a minor accident in Temple Street when she hit the gatepost of a house owned by Councillor Stuart Hughes.

He called the police and Barretto was arrested for drink-driving, despite claiming she swerved to avoid a squirrel in the road.

Magistrates sitting in Exeter heard Barretto had been downing spirits on the evening of Sunday, June 25, before she drove in a Skoda Rapid to go to a local shop in Sidmouth.

The 62-year-old holidaymaker came to a halt on a pavement and was having trouble with the manual gears when she drove into Mr Hughes’ front gate, the court heard.

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The householder called the police at 8.45pm and asked the driver some questions.

She said she had swerved to avoid the squirrel, was not used to the manual hire car, but confirmed she had been drinking.

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Barretto was arrested after a breath test machine failed three times at the scene.

She later blew 79mg of alcohol per 100 mililetres in her breath – more than twice the legal limit.

Barretto appeared in court last week after spending two nights and a day in police cells.

She and her husband had been visiting since May and were due to return to their home in Wangi Wangi in New South Wales, Australia, on Friday, June 30, said prosecutor Richard Parkhouse.

Defence lawyer Warren Robinson told Exeter Magistrates’ Court that Barretto had ‘tried to avoid an animal’.

He said she had trouble getting into gear, but had not caused any damage to the property.

She had been driving for 45 years and had never had a drink-drive offence on her record.

The JPs banned her from driving for 17 months and fined her a total of £497.

Tory county councillor Mr Hughes is a member of the transport committee, whose duties include responsibility for road safety.

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