Saturday, September 24, 2022

"Do you know who I am?" Drink-drive Ukip councillor Robert Ray pleads guilty

THE drunken leader of Thurrock’s UKIP councillors ‘ranted and raved’ at police officers, refused to give a breath test and shouted “Do you know who I am” – all while his stricken wife lay seriously ill on the floor.

Councillor Robert Ray appeared before Magistrates today when the saga of how a UKIP fundraiser with party leader Nigel Farage turned into an early morning drinking session and ended with Cllr Ray in a police cell and his wife in a Basildon hospital bed. Tragically, the court heard Cllr Ray’s wife Maggie – also a councillor, died not long afterwards.

The events unfolded on 13 June last year when Cllr Ray , 65, of Purfleet Road, Aveley, reluctantly attended the event at Orsett Hall Hotel. Crown prosecutor Jennifer Kirton told Basildon Magistrates Court that Cllr and Mrs Ray had been drinking at the event until the early hours of the following morning, when they eventually left. The couple were advised not to drive by staff at the Hotel, who eventually called the police because of concerns over the condition of Cllr Ray.

When Police officers arrived at the hotel they found Cllr Ray at the wheel of his Peugeot car and indicated him to stop. When they approached the vehicle Cllr Ray asked them “what is going on?”

Ms Kirton took up the story, saying: “The officers told him they had received a call and asked him if he had been drinking. He told them he ‘had had a couple.’

“Mr Ray then became agitated and gestured at the officers and shouted that he had been at an event with Nigel Farage, adding ‘Don’t you know who I am? I am a prominent person and a councillor. I am a powerful man.”

“Officers then noticed a female on the ground of the car park as they requested that Mr Ray take a breath test.

“Mr Ray told them he wasn’t on the road, but he was told if he didn’t consent to a breath test he would be arrested. He refused. The time was 2.15am.

“Mr Ray was ranting and raving and told the officers he knew the police commissioner and the chief constable. He was arrested and an ambulance was called.”

The prosecutor then told the court that Cllr Ray was taken to a police station where, after initially refusing to be breath tested again, a sample was taken and he was found to be almost two and a half times over the drink-driving limit.

“Cllr Ray was charged with drink driving and later appeared before magistrates court, where he pleaded not guilty"

The case had been scheduled to be heard at Crown Court next week, but today’s hearing took place after Cllr Ray, who resigned as leader of the Thurrock Council UKIP group in the wake of the incident, changed and his mind ad decided to plead guilty.

Defending Cllr Ray, Jeremy Sirrell told magistrates that there were a number of mitigating circumstances in the case and asked for the court to show leniency to Cllr Ray, who he described as a sick man, who was on medication for a number of medical conditions.

Mr Sirrell told the court: “Mr Ray was asked by his members to attend a function at Orsett Hall. He did not particularly want to attend but he agreed to do so, so that he could pull his weight for his team.

“He took his car to the event because he took banners, balloons and other paraphernalia. The agreement was that if he was not able to drive afterwards he would be taken by one of his colleagues.

“At the end of the evening he had to remove all of the items and took them to his car, helped by his wife. He was in the car park for about 20 minutes before the police finally arrived. It is his case that he had never intended to drive.

“What happened was that his wife fell down and was on the floor at the side of the car. Mr Ray was not able to get to her to help her because of where it was parked. He could not get the car door open to get her in and out of the car. Inevitably he had to move the car and was doing so when the police arrived.

“He was upset at being questioned by the police because he felt he was within his rights to drive the vehicle because Orsett Hall is not a public place and there is case law to that effect.

“He does accept he drove the car, but only to move it to get to his wife, to help her.”

Mr Sirrell then outlined details of a medical condition that had affected Mr Ray’s wife, known as Maggie O’Keefe-Ray, but which was diagnosed after the incident and had its roots in an earlier operation to remove her gall bladder, but had led to problems with her liver.

He told the court that subsequently, Mrs O’Keefe-Ray had died because of problems relating to that condition.

He said that Mr Ray had always maintained his innocence, hence his decision to plead not guilty, but in the end he had decided to change his plea because he accepted he had been at the wheel of the car.

However, said Mr Sirrell, there were the mitigating factors and he asked for the court’s leniency and to acknowledge the fact that Cllr Ray had changed his plea rather that the case having to go to a higher court. Mr Sirrell spoke of his disappointment at the level of costs being asked for by the prosecution, because he felt Cllr Ray had helped save expenses by changing his plea.

“I am going to ask you,” he concluded in his speech to magistrates, “to take into account the exonerating and exceptional circumstances and I hope you will agree it is not appropriate to give him anything other than the minimum sentence.”

The Magistrates fined Cllr Ray £600, and gave him an order to pay costs of £500 and a victim surcharge of £60.

He was banned from driving for 19 months, though Cllr Ray accepted the option to take a drink driving awareness course that, if successfully completed, will knock 19 weeks off the ban.

Outside the court Cllr Ray declined to comment but a spokesperson for UKIP read a short statement on his behalf saying: “I deeply regret this unfortunate incident which was entirely out of character and I apologise to all of my residents.”


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