Coogan Cleared Of Driving Offence

Comedian Steve Coogan was found not guilty of a driving offence today after it emerged a friend was behind the wheel of his car when it was caught speeding.

The 46-year-old comic told a court it had "slipped my mind'' that his friend was driving the Range Rover when it was flashed doing 39mph in a 30mph zone.

Brighton Magistrates' Court heard he was busy with TV and film work at the time as well as involved in suing News International and preparing for the Leveson Inquiry.

The Range Rover was caught speeding on the A259 at Kingsway in Hove, East Sussex, just before 11.30am on October 12 last year.

Coogan, famed for his alter ego Alan Partridge, told magistrates that he loaned vehicles out to friends, family and colleagues on a pool basis, and could not remember who he had loaned the Range Rover to until months later.

The comedian, dressed in a blue suit and tie, said that at the time of the speeding offence he was on the telephone to the Guardian newspaper dictating an article and had later made stringent efforts to find out who was the driver.

Prosecutors dropped the speeding charge against him and magistrates cleared him of failing to notify police about who was driving after saying the case against him had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The court was told that Coogan was posted a letter informing him about the speeding offence in November, and he wrote back days later asking for photographic evidence.

Coogan said he contacted "the usual suspects'' who regularly borrowed his cars but drew a blank when all of them came back to say they had not been driving the Range Rover at the time.

Months later, after a court summons was sent to Coogan, it was recalled that his friend Jodie Bayly had been driving it, and Coogan said the matter was immediately referred to the authorities.

Ms Bayly, whom he has known for around eight years, had not borrowed any of his cars before or since, so did not figure initially in his mind as being the driver, he told the court.

The offer from him to allow her to borrow a car came about after she mentioned she was going to hire a vehicle to take a trip to Stonehenge in Wiltshire while visiting Brighton.

Once it transpired she was the driver of the Range Rover, she was apologetic and wrote a letter confirming she was behind the wheel, the court heard.

Coogan said Ms Bayly had "slipped through the net'' when he was trying to find out who was driving and it was not in his interests to hide information from the police.

Coogan told magistrates: "Had I applied myself to it with a tenacious and forensic approach, it's possible that I could have established that Jodie was the driver but I may not have done because I was looking in the wrong place.

"I think that given the circumstances, I looked into it with a reasonable amount of tenacity.'' He added: "Could I have found out earlier, had I had nothing on my plate? Yes, possibly.''

Cross-examined by prosecutor Brian Noel, Coogan, of Ovingdean, Brighton, said his insurance arrangements allowed him to loan his cars to any driver over the age of 25 with his permission.

Detailing how hectic his life was at the time, Coogan's solicitor Andrew Bishop said: "At the end of 2011, what was going on his life was absolutely exceptional.

"Prime ministers, ex-prime ministers and very many people appeared before the Leveson Inquiry. You don't just pitch up to one of those events.''

Clearing the comedian of failing to notify police who was driving, chairman of the bench Anthony Rosenfield said: "We are satisfied that in the circumstances you have provided this information as soon as practicable.

"We are therefore satisfied that the prosecution has failed by all reasonable doubt.''

Coogan left court without commenting to reporters.