Parish council chairman sentenced for dangerous driving

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Court report
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A parish council chairman convicted of dangerous driving following an incident at Tostock involving a horse has been banned from the road for a year.

Sheena Waitkins, 66, a retired pathologist who chairs Tostock Parish Council, had denied the charge but a jury at Ipswich Crown Court last month found her guilty.

Sentencing her today, Judge John Holt told Waitkins, of The Green, Tostock, that she had an impeccable character and the trial had included ‘inconsistent’ prosecution evidence.

Judge Holt said: “I regard it as being at the lowest end of seriousness” before imposing a £200 fine and disqualifying Waitkins from driving for 12 months, although that period will have started on April 11 when she was found guilty.

During a two day trial it was alleged that Eleanor Goffin, who was eight and a half months pregnant, ended up with her hands on the bonnet of Waitkin’s car after it drove towards her on September 20 last year.

Mrs Goffin told the court: “I thought I was going into labour. I thought I was going to die.”

The incident took place as Mrs Goffin walked with a horse called Chocolate which was being ridden by her mother Alison Duncan in Tostock.

Mrs Goffin said Waitkins became enraged when the horse moved itself onto The Green and waved a walking stick and shouted.

After being told by Waitkins to get the horse off the grass Mrs Goffin said she had questioned what it had to do with her and was then subjected to a loud response.

Mrs Goffin said she was unaware that horses were not allowed on The Green by the parish council.

Less than ten minutes later Waitkins, who had left the scene on foot, returned in her car, driving quickly and pulled up very close to the rear of the horse in New Road, Tostock.

Mrs Duncan said: “She came right up behind us, nearly up the bottom of the horse. She was so close that if I had taken my foot out of the stirrup I could have touched her car with my foot.”

Words were exchanged by both sides before Waitkins drove the car towards Mrs Goffin who feared she was going to be struck by it and put her hands on the bonnet, said Lori Tucker, prosecuting.

Waitkins wound down the front passenger window and told Mrs Duncan to “get off the road”, said Mrs Goffin.

Mrs Goffin used her phone to take a picture of Waitkins registration place as the incident was taking place because she said she thought the police needed to be involved.

Before she drove off at speed, Waitkins was revving her engine and sounding her horn, said Mrs Goffin.

Pedestrian Julie Hutton who was walking her dogs told the court that she had seen Waitkins car driving quickly along New Road and up to the rear of the horse.

Although she could hear something being shouted by the occupant of the car she could not make out what was being said.

Giving evidence, Waitkins, who has lived in Tostock for 22 years and been a parish councillor for four years, said that horses were banned from The Green, which had been owned by the council since the 1800s, because of problems with manure being deposited where children play and also the grass being cut up.

The ban was enforced using the 1857 Enclosure Act and two livery stables in the village along with residents were well aware of the situation, she said.

Waitkins said it was “perfectly untrue” that she brandished a walking stick and because her car was an automatic it was not possible to rev the engine without it “jumping like a kangaroo.”

She had also not sounded the horn continuously.

The incident involving Mrs Goffin allegedly having to put her hands on the car bonnet could not have happened because she was standing more than a metre away from the vehicle, claimed Waitkins.

She had not seen at that stage that Mrs Goffin was pregnant.

Waitkins said she had driven normally and had not set out in her car with the intention of causing fear in Mrs Goffin and Mrs Duncan. She said: “I was annoyed but not angry.”

She had taken photos of Mrs Goffin, Mrs Duncan and the horse with the intention of identifying them and it being possible for the parish council to write a letter explaining that horses must not go onto The Green.

Speaking outside court after she had been sentenced, Waitkins said: “I have never been in trouble in my life and I wish I had never met those people.”