A Virgin Airlines flight attendant who was caught driving under the influence of alcohol in a McDonalds drive-thru has been cleared of court after blaming her crime on “naked human vulnerability” over a toxic romance.
Samantha Sutcliffe, 38, was drinking white wine and then crashing her BMW into a traffic bollard while buying a BigMac meal for lunch in early November. almost two and a half times more than the alcohol limit.
When questioned about her 1.15pm arrest, the mother of a child from Scarisbrick near Ormskirk, Lancashire, told police: “I didn’t think I had gone over the limit, but clearly I had.”
Her lawyer later claimed she had been on a “low ebb” as she came out of an abusive relationship that has since ended.
Samantha Sutcliffe, 38, tested nearly two and a half times over the alcohol limit after crashing into a traffic bollard while buying a BigMac lunchtime meal in Southport in November
At Sefton Magistrates’ Court, Prosecuting Lionel Cope said: ‘The incident occurred on 1 November when Miss Sutcliffe was driving a white BMW in the Kew area of Southport.
“She went to a drive-thru of a McDonalds restaurant and when she ordered the food, the staff thought she might be under the influence.
“The police were contacted and upon arrival officers thought she appeared to be under the influence of alcohol.”
Mr Cope said Sutcliffe’s test results showed she had 86 micrograms of alcohol in 100 milliliters of breath.
The legal alcohol limit for driving is 35 mg.
Mr Cope continued: ‘During the interview she admitted the offence. She said: “I didn’t think I was over the limit, but clearly I was”.
“Damage occurred when driving into a traffic bollard or railing. She has no previous convictions.’
Sutcliffe’s lawyer said that prior to the incident she had been “drinking quite steadily over the weekend, struggling to sleep and describing herself as at absolute low”
Attorney Frank Rogers, representing Sutcliffe, said: ‘It was not willful recklessness. It was naked human weakness. A woman who comes out of a difficult relationship, hits rock bottom and faces the reality of her situation, but who is otherwise a woman of good character.”
“This is a woman of hitherto impeccable character. She is a single parent, juggling full-time and part-time jobs, and coming from an abusive relationship.
“The weekend had brought her to an all-time low. She said she was at rock bottom. After drinking for a while over the weekend, she made a misjudgmental decision when she decided to drive.”
Mr Rogers said her driving prior to the incident was ‘flawless’ and she had held a driving license for 21 years with no speeding and bans.
He claimed that the incident was “out of character” for Sutcliffe as a result.
Mr. Rogers continued: “She is a long-haul flight attendant with Virgin Airlines. She works irregular hours. She works so many days and then has seven days off.
“The loss of her driving licence, which is of course inevitable, will make it incredibly difficult to get to work in Manchester because of the flying hours and also because she has to get from Scarisbrick to Liverpool and then to Manchester.
‘The reliability of trains, regardless of the strikes, is not great. So the job is on the line, but she’s asked Virgin to change her roster and they’ve been incredibly supportive.’
Sutcliffe was fined £300, ordered to pay costs and a £240 victim surcharge in court
Mr Rogers referred to character references, including from a catering company that Sutcliffe started working for during the pandemic and where she continues to help part-time.
He continued, “They are eager to apprehend her and somehow circumvent the ban.
“I think those references speak volumes. She had been in an abusive and abusive controlling relationship for about a year which ended after this incident.
She was emotionally at an all-time low. She and some friends and her son had been on holiday abroad. On his return, the son went to stay with his father so that she was alone at home.
Coming back to reality and facing the relationship she left behind, she couldn’t handle it. She drank fairly steadily over the weekend, had trouble sleeping, and described herself as at absolute low.
She drank two glasses of wine and tried to order some food, but she couldn’t. Foolishly, she decided to drive the short distance she could have walked. She ordered the fast food. She rounded the bend, misjudged it and hit the bollard.’
Mr Rogers also explained that Sutcliffe sought professional help for her problems.
He added: “There is confirmation from the assistant manager at McDonalds that there was already some damage there.
“The police describe her as calm and compliant, so there’s a lot to be said for her.”
Sutcliffe admitted to drunk driving and was fined £300, ordered to pay costs and a £240 casualty fee.
She has also been banned from driving for 17 months, but offered the opportunity to take the drunk driving awareness course, reducing this ban by a quarter.
Mr Rogers asked the court to fine her rather than sentence her to community service. He said she earns £1,200 net a month and added that there was no alcohol dependence prior to this episode.
He also said she went to McDonald’s the day after the incident to apologize for what happened and offer payment for the damage caused.
He added: “She knows she will pay a high price. She is ashamed and sorry. She knows she has failed herself and her 13-year-old son.”