“Shamed” ex-footballer Dean Saunders has apologised for his “terrible error of judgment” after winning his appeal to overturn a jail sentence.
The 55-year-old former Liverpool striker said he hoped to learn from his experience and “become a better person” in a statement released after his hearing at Chester Crown Court.
He was jailed for 10 weeks on August 28 at Chester Magistrates’ Court after admitting failing to comply with a roadside breath test and failing to provide a breath specimen.
But a day later he was bailed until his appeal hearing on Friday, when his jail sentence was suspended for 18 months.
In a statement released through the League Managers Association (LMA), Saunders said: “I want to apologise to the Court, my family and all of the people I have let down as a result of my actions.
“I made a terrible error of judgment for which I have been rightly punished, and I wholeheartedly regret that it happened.
“I accept that I have been given an opportunity by the Court and I hope that people can learn from my experience. The message is a simple one – don’t ever drink and drive.
“I will learn from this and become a better person.
“I would like to thank everyone who has given me support and guidance throughout this time.”
Saunders was stopped in the early hours of May 10, telling officers he had only drunk “one pint”, but was told by one police officer “You can’t even stand up” in footage of his arrest released by the authorities.
The father-of-three had been pulled over in his Audi A8 for his “atrocious” driving – speeding, swerving over the white line and causing other vehicles to brake.
His speech was slurred and he smelled of alcohol.
Saunders, who also played for Aston Villa and Derby, refused to give a breath specimen at the roadside and continued his “obstructive and evasive” behaviour at the police station, repeatedly refusing to give a specimen of breath.
But his lawyers secured his release on bail a day later, after Saunders spent a night in HMP Altcourse, Liverpool, until his appeal against the jail sentence.
Saunders sat in the dock with his head down at Chester Crown Court for his 90-minute appeal hearing.
Judge Steven Everett, Honorary Recorder of Chester, sitting with two magistrates, viewed the bodycam footage of the defendant at the police station following his arrest.
Saunders repeatedly told the officers he would only take a test after his solicitor arrived, adding: “Arrest me if you want.”
Judge Everett said he believed Saunders had “had a lot to drink” when stopped by police and “prevaricated” over taking a breath test before his solicitor arrived so the alcohol reading would be lower.
His “unsatisfactory behaviour” continued, the judge said, and he had taken the “entirely wrong approach” at the magistrates’ court in telling probation officers that he could not do work in the community because of his job as a TV pundit travelling the country watching football matches.
The court heard that Saunders was now willing to carry out community service and the only other realistic option was serving a sentence in jail.
Judge Everett said the district judge had been right to jail Saunders but, because of his previous good character and the prospect of rehabilitation, meant he could suspend the jail sentence for 18 months.
He also ordered Saunders to do 200 hours’ work in the community.
The ex-player’s 30-month driving ban remains.
Passing sentence, he added: “The sheer shame is going to live with you for the rest of your life.
“You should literally hang your head in shame by what you did.
“You have had your chance, I suggest you take it.
“I suggest you take the opportunity to tell others that it really isn’t worth it. Drink-driving is a terrible thing. Don’t.”
Alistair Webster QC, representing Saunders, said this was a “paradigm case” for suspending a prison sentence and the defendant had been unable to watch the footage of his arrest.
The barrister said: “It feels, when one looks at the man and his life, past this one evening, disproportionate and unnecessary.
“He has had the experience of going into prison.
“As he was walking into prison, people were shouting threats from the windows.
“He found conditions extremely unpleasant, in terms of a dirty mattress, but the prison staff were good to him.
“Happily he was granted bail but it has been a very salutary lesson.”
Ex-Liverpool player and manager Graeme Souness, and Richard Bevan, chairman of the League Managers Association (LMA), supplied references for Saunders.