Friday, 8th June 2007, 15:38
Singer George Michael was sentenced to 100 hours community service and banned from driving for two years today after admitting being unfit to drive.
The pop icon escaped a jail term the day before his massive Wembley concert after being found “slumped, drooling and sweating” at the wheel of his luxury car last year.
The 43-year-old condemned the “farcical” media coverage and said he was “ashamed” after putting others at risk.
He said: “When I was talking in the last hearing about being ashamed, that’s what I was ashamed at, the risk to others.
“I’m not ashamed of my behaviour to myself, I’m me, but I’m ashamed I have done something really wrong in putting others at risk.”
After signing autographs inside Brent Magistrates Court, he appeared on the steps to a throng of fans and photographers and said: “I would simply ask people to understand that the media coverage of this case has been farcical and based almost entirely on the prosecution allegations.
“In reality I have been sentenced on unfit driving through tiredness and prescription drugs which I fully accept responsibility for.
“I’m glad to put this behind me and I am now off to do the biggest show of my life.”
The small west London courtroom heard Michael had returned from a concert in France when he was stopped by officers shortly after 3am on October 1 last year.
Andrew Torrington, prosecuting, said Michael was spotted by two women driving “very slowly, between five and 10 miles per hour” in Cricklewood, north west London.
The ladies saw his Merc wander across to the other side of the road and back again, before straddling two lanes five metres short of the traffic lights.
Mr Torrington said: “The lights were at green and the vehicle remained stationery for approximately three changes of the lights. The lights changed to red and the vehicle started to move forward.
“The vehicle stopped, the lights changed to green and the vehicle didn’t move. The lights changed to red and the Mercedes appeared to move backwards.”
The concerned women phoned the police and approached the singer, who they described as being “bewildered, frightened and confused”.
Mr Torrington said the police arrived “fairly quickly” and they saw “the defendant slumped forwards against the steering wheel, eyes closed.
“He was drooling and the defendant appeared to regain consciousness. He said to the officer: ‘leave me alone, I’m OK’.
“He closed his eyes again and slumped forward and appeared in a very confused state. Other offices arrived at the scene and they found him sweating profusely.”
The singer was taken to hospital by ambulance and released three hours later.
A toxicology report was negative for alcohol, but he admitted taking cannabis after the Paris concert.
Mr Torrington added it was not possible to calculate how much cannabis was taken and District Judge Katherine Marshall said it was clear that the illegal class C drug was not the cause of his unfitness.
Subsequent toxicology tests revealed a therapeutic dose of the anti-depressant Efexor and a low dose of sleeping tablet Zolpidem, also known as Stilnoct.
The “aphrodisiac” GHB was also found in his system at a level of 16 milligrams/1 millilitre.
Michael – appearing under his real name of Georgios Panayiotou – maintained his condition was due to tiredness and prescription drugs.
His solicitor Brian Spiro said experts had warned the GHB reading should be treated with “caution” because it can occur naturally in the body and could have been produced within the sample in the months after the blood was taken but before it was tested.
Mr Spiro said: “He accepts he should not have been in a motor vehicle. What he means by that is he should not have been in a motor vehicle.
“He was a danger to himself and more importantly a danger to other road users.”
Mr Spiro said Michael was on prescribed medicine at the time of the arrest and suffered from insomnia. He added he had been on a gruelling European tour.
Mr Spiro said: “It was a combination of the prescribed medication alone and the pre-existing tiredness that rendered him unfit to be driving a motor vehicle.
“He wishes to express his regret and put this whole incident behind him.”
Speaking of the tour, his solicitor said: “In the five days leading up to this incident, he had performed three full-length shows of some two and three quarter hour duration.
“To perform three full-length shows in five days, it was the first time he had completed such a demanding schedule for 15 years.”
After the Paris gig, Michael flew back to Luton and was driven home to London where he took the sleeping pill.
He added: “He doesn’t particularly like sleeping tablets or relying on sleeping tablets.”
Mr Spiro said his manager subsequently presented the singer with a DVD of the gig which he was “anxious” to see.
However, the court heard Michael’s DVD player was not working so he set out to drive to his other London home to see the show.
Mr Spiro added: “He accepted it was a “wrong and inappropriate thing to do.”
In mitigation he said there had not been an accident, although Ms Marshall later said that was “merely a fortunate outcome”.
Mr Spiro told the court an inevitable driving ban would “severely restrict his quality of life” because his status meant he was unable to use public transport.
He said his client also had to live with “lurid headlines being seen around the world”, adding: “There is no doubt his shame and humiliation will become matters of public scrutiny, assessment and mirth to some.”
The court heard Michael has had five speeding convictions since the year 2000 and the district judge said his driving record was “not good”.
Sentencing him, she said the level of unfitness was high, but gave him full credit for his guilty plea.
She said the prosecution’s conviction had only been secured by Michael’s guilty plea, because they changed their case midway and dropped the cannabis allegations.
She added: “I have made no findings with regard to the identity of the drug which caused the unfitness.”
She continued: “What remains clear is that cannabis was not the cause of unfitness and I would hope that is fairly reported.
“GHB was found, but I make no findings about the origin.”
Michael was sentenced to 100 hours community service, given a two year driving ban and ordered to pay costs of £2,325.
Mr Spiro had previously asked for an “appropriate” community penalty, suggesting the singer could work in a youth club or with youngsters trying to forge a career in the music industry.
Before Michael left the dock, Ms Marshall added: “I know you have an important concert tomorrow. I wish you well with that.”
How Did George Michael Die? Cause Of Death For Ex-Wham! Singer Is Unknown As He Dies ‘Peacefully’ At Home — (Follow News)
Ex-Wham! singer George Michael died “peacefully” at home in Oxfordshire, Sunday. He was 53 years old. His cause of death is currently unknown. “It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his publicist told the BBC Sunday. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”