Friday 24 February 2017

England rugby star Danny Cipriani 'feared drink-drive arrest would harm World Cup chances'

England's Danny Cipriani
England's Danny Cipriani

Rugby star Danny Cipriani was concerned his arrest on suspicion of drink-driving would harm his chances of getting into the England squad, a police officer told his trial.

The player was described as looking "crestfallen" when he was arrested in the early hours of June 1 last year, after he crashed his Mercedes car into a taxi.

Cipriani accused the taxi driver of hitting his car, but he had been drinking, could not stand up straight and was "stuttering" and could not speak properly, London's Westminster Magistrates' Court heard.

The taxi driver, Muhammad Qasim, said he suffered injuries to his neck, shoulder and lower back in the crash on Imperial Road in Fulham, west London, at 5.15am.

Sale Sharks player Cipriani, who has agreed a move to Wasps at the end of the season, denies drink-driving.

The court heard that a sergeant chatted to Cipriani at the police station about watching him play in a match the day before and asked about his chances of making the World Cup squad.

Defence lawyer Philip Lucas said police sergeant Marc Pullen recognised Cipriani as he stood waiting to be booked into Hammersmith Police station.

The rugby star was then allegedly told the police would "take care" of him and he was invited to stand outside as there was a delay of around 50 minutes in getting him booked in.

Mr Lucas said Cipriani "got the impression" the delay was "calculated to assist him".

The lawyer said Sgt Pullen "said he had watched the game the day before with his son and that they both loved it".

Sgt Pullen said he spoke to Cipriani about his rugby career to put him at ease as he was clearly "distressed" and worried his arrest would harm his chances of getting into the England squad.

But he strongly denied doing anything to help out Cipriani.

He told the court: "I could obviously see that Mr Cipriani was quite distressed, quite upset, and I mentioned to him that he had played well the day before, just to try to put him at ease.

"The fact that he was quite distressed and obviously stood in front of me having been arrested for drunk driving."

Asked why he thought Cipriani was distressed, he said: "It was his demeanour - his face was down and he was clearly upset by the fact that he had been arrested.

"I spoke to him a bit about rugby, I mentioned my brother in law played rugby and we discussed his situation.

"He mentioned the situation with the current England team was going to be threatened by the fact he had been arrested, we discussed that.

"I was trying to put his mind at ease. I said it (the breath test) might go under, don't worry let's just get this out of the way."

But he strongly denied doing anything improper or saying he would make things easy for Cipriani.

Sgt Pullen said he talked to Cipriani about rugby because he looked "crestfallen" and upset at being arrested, but strongly denied giving him any special treatment or asking for his autograph.

Mr Qasim told the court that he had just picked up his first passenger of the day when Cipriani crashed into him.

He was driving at around 20mph to 30mph and had slowed down to avoid Cipriani, who was "swinging here and there" as he drove down the road, Mr Qasim said.

The court heard that Pc Shane Elsworth questioned Cipriani at the scene and described the rugby player as having "glazed" eyes and said his breath smelt of alcohol.

He said Cipriani admitted drinking alcohol "about an hour" before the crash and handed over his car keys.

Cipriani, from Raynes Park in south-west London, was breathalysed and found to have 67 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath, it is alleged. The legal limit in England and Wales is 35 micrograms.

The 28-year-old, who has recently split up with Sky Sports presenter and Strictly Come Dancing star Kirsty Gallacher, wore a navy suit and open-collared white shirt and spoke only to confirm his name, age and address at the beginning of the hearing.

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