Becky Mason, 28, was arrested and failed a breath test after staggering from the wreck of her Peugeot 307 in her pyjamas.
It later emerged that minutes earlier she had driven to work – even though it was Saturday night – where an incredulous security guard told her the office was shut for the weekend.A jobcentre adviser who smashed her car into a lamp-post after finishing a bottle of wine has been cleared of drink-driving after a judge accepted she had been sleepwalking.
Relieved: Becky Mason was cleared of the charges against her after it was proved that she had been fast asleep when she got in the car drunk
Now, after an extraordinary legal battle, Miss Mason has been acquitted after a court found she had been asleep the whole time and therefore couldn’t be held responsible for her actions.
Unbeknown to her, it turned out she had been suffering from sleepwalking episodes for years.
Her defence was backed by a leading sleep expert who has previously gone to court to debunk claims by murderers and rapists that they were asleep at the time of their crimes.
On the day of the crash, Miss Mason had awoken early, because she was worrying about an appointment she had concerning voluntary work.
‘I struggle to sleep anyway, and on the day of the crash I’d been awake since 6am,’ she said.
‘Later on I had a friend round to my home and we both had a few glasses of wine and did karaoke together.Then the next thing I knew I was getting out of my car after crashing into a lamp-post.’
Witnesses described the psychology graduate as appearing ‘confused’ after the crash, which she escaped with only a graze to her hand, thanks to her car’s airbags.
Breath tests found 96mg of alcohol per 100ml – nearly three times the legal limit of 35mg – and she told officers she had obviously been drink-driving.
But after telling solicitor Derek Millard-Smith she had no memory of getting into the car and ‘it felt like committing a crime in my sleep’, he set about investigating further.
In law, sleepwalking – or automatism – is a defence against committing a criminal act as there is no conscious act of will involved.
Shortly before the crash, at about 10pm on Saturday, February 11 this year, Miss Mason had arrived at the JobCentre in Knowsley, Merseyside, where she is a customer service adviser – a five-mile journey from her Liverpool home.
The security guard – whose evidence was to prove crucial in the case – pointed out to the pyjama-clad Miss Mason that she wasn’t due in for another 36 hours, and she left again.
Miss Mason now believes that after falling asleep on the sofa, she had been disturbed by the noise of her housemates shutting the front door as they went out, and got into her car without waking up.
An expert examining the case concluded she crashed because she was actually moving into a phase of deeper sleep.
He said evidence that both Miss Mason and – she has now learnt – other family members had previously sleepwalked supported the theory.
Trigger: It is believed the noise of her housemate shutting the door disturbed her sleep and make her get up and get in her car
This week at Liverpool magistrates court, District Judge Miriam Shelvey said she was ‘satisfied that the defendant did drive while in a state of parasomnia’, or disordered sleep.
Yesterday Miss Mason – originally from Mid Wales – told the Daily Mail: ‘It really hasn’t sunk in yet – it’s been the worst year of my life and I’m so relieved it’s all over.
‘I would never in a million years drink and drive; in fact I’ve always been strongly against it.
‘I had no idea I might have been sleepwalking, but the more we pieced things together, the more it made sense. A few weeks later I was due to go to Alton Towers, and I woke up at 3am and realised I’d been putting my make-up on in my sleep.’
Miss Mason – who could not get legal aid and had to fund her defence through a family inheritance – now gives a friend ‘custody’ of her car keys when she’s asleep to prevent a repeat.
Neuropsychiatrist Dr Jonathan Bird said it was the first time in 26 years specialising in sleep disorders that he had gone to court to support an account of sleepwalking.
‘Her experience is at the extreme end of parasomnia, but the evidence strongly showed that she had indeed been asleep right up until the crash,’ he told the Mail.
Mr Millard-Smith, of Hill Dickinson solicitors, said he too had no doubt Miss Mason had been asleep, saying: ‘The message is not you can get away with drink-driving if you advance sleepwalking as a defence, but that the justice system does work in the event of genuine circumstances.’