‘If we don’t catch anybody tonight it’s still a success’

Police stop drivers by Unicorn Gate in Portsmouth 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (151954-16)
Police stop drivers by Unicorn Gate in Portsmouth 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (151954-16)
  • Traffic cops breathalyse more than 100 in four-hour opeation
  • Annual Christmas drink-drive crackdown is in full swing
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People drinking in bars, clubs and at home over Christmas are warned not to drink and drive.

The annual message is familiar but waking up in a police station cell with a sore head knowing you will lose your licence is a sobering experience.

Police say lives are ruined by drink-drivers – the risk of killing or injuring someone on the road obviously increases through impaired driving.

But even if it’s just the loss of a licence it could also see your source of income disappear, along with respect from friends and family.

This year Hampshire police’s roads policing officers are patrolling looking for drug and drink drivers on the roads.

So far Sgt David Sanderson’s team, based at Havant RPU, has breathalysed more than 400 people during Operation Holly.

If we don’t catch anybody tonight, I will still consider that a success

Sgt David Sanderson

And few, about five, have tested positive and ended up in court.

During the crackdown the officers are not hiding in bushes or carrying out covert operations – they want to be seen.

At the start of a four-hour operation at night in Portsmouth, Sgt Sanderson hopes his team will deter more than they catch.

Dressed in high-visibility clothing and marked cars, the 10 officers funnel traffic coming into the city through Market Way to a staging ground outside Unicorn Gate the officers.

Backed up with a Ministry of Defence police motorcyclist, they start to breathalyse every driver they pull over.

It’s an impressive sight as six to seven cars line up at a time with RPU officers talking to drivers and conducting breath tests.

‘Hopefully we can get the message across that we’re taking the matter very seriously,’ Sgt Sanderson says.

‘That awareness can reduce the number of people committing criminal offences.

‘This is nothing about trying to catch people – it’s not about that.

‘It’s about trying to give responsible drivers the confidence that they’re going to be safe on the roads because we’re doing our best to tackle irresponsible behaviour.

‘If we don’t catch anybody tonight, I will still consider that a success.’

Shop worker Abi Smith, 17, of Portchester, is among the first to be pulled over.

PC Chris Powling stands close to the window to speak with her.

The small car is full with four friends with whom she’s just been to the work Christmas party.

She’s exactly the kind of person you’d expect to be at risk of being over the limit.

But, as she nervously takes a deep breath and blows down the breathalyser’s tube, the machine comes back with a zero.

‘I’m the designated driver just to be safe,’ she says.

‘It’s a bit scary being pulled over, my heart was going a bit – I’d thought I’d done something wrong.’

But Abi, who has only been driving for a few days, is fully supportive of the crackdown.

‘It’s good to keep people safe,’ she adds.

About 235 vehicles are stopped and 130 breath tests carried out.

Officers can only breath test people they suspect have been drinking.

That’s the reason behind the friendly banter with the drivers as they’re stopped – all conducted close face-to-face so any alcohol on people’s breath can be detected.

None of those tested were over the legal limit of 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.

And none of the drivers’ readings were higher than 10mcg.

But as Sgt Sanderson says, this is a good result.

He and his team know that word of the operation will spread quickly.

And it’s that which will keep drink-drivers off the road in the first place.

Josh Potgieter, 21, a product specialist in airline software, is stopped by special constable James Anderson.

As with most drivers seen in the operation between 10pm and 2am, he blows a zero reading – he’s had nothing to drink.

‘They’ve got to catch someone, too many people probably get away with it,’ he says.

‘It’s definitely worth cutting down the number of drink-drivers on the road.’

Traffic is briefly backed up along Market Way as the combination of the funnelling and a ferry arriving increases the number of vehicles on the road.

But the slick operation, with officers stationed to monitor and manage traffic, quickly suspends the funnel as the traffic cops let cars go to alleviate the problem.

Recruitment worker Ryan Shipston, of Knowle village, doesn’t seem to mind.

The 23-year-old is stopped when the staging ground it back in use.

‘It doesn’t bother me at all, it might back up traffic for a few minutes but only to keep the roads safer,’ he says.

‘I’d like it done every day.’

Inspector Steve Wakeford, who is out with his team during the operation tells The News: ‘This sort of operation will continue pretty much every night, and certainly at the peak periods at weekends and in the mornings.

‘People tend to drink overnight and the following morning not realise they’re over the limit.

‘This year in particular we’re not just looking at alcohol, we’re looking at drugs as well.

‘We’re carrying DrugWipe systems that we can test people on the roadside for cocaine and cannabis.

‘Anyone we suspect might be under the influence of cannabis or cocaine, or any type of drug at all we’ll be carrying out the field impairment test.

‘It’s the sobriety test, and also carrying out DrugWipe – it’s not just alcohol.’