Stoke City footballer Saido Berahino has been found guilty of drink-driving despite telling magistrates he only got behind the wheel to escape from armed robbers.
The 25-year-old was almost three times the legal limit when his black Range Rover was stopped in London’s West End in the early hours of February 18.
The Burundi-born striker, who started his career with West Bromwich Albion, told Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court he had driven his car for less than 30 seconds after drinking two mojito cocktails.
He claimed he only did so because he feared an armed gang, who had stolen his watch, two diamond chains and a bracelet minutes earlier, would return to attack him and his group, including his girlfriend and niece.
“I just felt like I was targeted because I was a professional footballer and the guys knew who I was,” he said.
“I was scared. I had just been attacked and obviously my niece was there, and I had to take action. I had to drive off from the scene,” he continued. “They had a knife and a gun as well.”
Berahino, of Old Penkridge Road, Staffordshire, denied one count of drink-driving on the basis he was acting “under duress of circumstances” but magistrates found him guilty of the offence on Wednesday.
Chair of the bench Mark Oxenham said the prosecution had not proved their case beyond reasonable doubt “that the defendant was not in fear of death or fear of serious injury to himself or his companions”.
But he added that Berahino’s sober girlfriend had driven the car immediately before and “could have continued the journey away from the scene”.
His barrister Garry Green said Berahino, who plays international football for Barundi, is due to appear in the African Cup of Nations this summer.
He said he is due to leave the country for a training camp on May 20 and could be away until July 13.
The court heard Berahino has previous convictions for drink-driving in 2015 and being drunk in charge of a vehicle in 2012.
Berahino, who joined Stoke for an initial £12 million in January 2017 from West Brom, said he has not played since the incident.
“It’s had a massive impact on my career,” he said.
“The club has taken a stance on it. I was suspended from first team action to play for the team. That was the last thing I wanted.”
The court heard police were called at around 3am to reports of a possible stabbing involving seven people outside VQ Cafe, in Great Russell Street and followed Berahino’s 4×4 the short distance to Bedford Square.
Pc Stephen Luu said Berahino’s “eyes appeared red and he appeared really nervous,” adding: “As I got closer to him, I could actually smell alcohol on his breath.
“I did ask him if he had been drinking, and he replied, ‘yes, just one’.”
His colleague, Pc Oliver Clixby, said the footballer’s “eyes were bloodshot” and his speech “was rather slurred”.
The court heard he was asked to breathe into a breathalyser, which showed he had 112mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath and Pc Clixby said that when he was arrested, Berahino replied: “This is bullshit.”
He added: “You’re treating me like criminal. I’m the victim.”
At the police station, Berahino was found to be almost three times the drink-drive limit, with 103mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath, the court heard. The legal limit is 35mg.
Berahino told magistrates he did not initially tell police he was attacked because he did not want “anything to get out in the media”.
“It would jeopardise my career and I was scared of that,” he said.
He said he drove from Birmingham to London with his girlfriend, niece and her boyfriend to eat at the Sumosan Twiga restaurant in Knightsbridge despite having a game the next day.
Berahino admitted it was a breach of the rules of his club, which forbids players from going on nights out for 48 hours before playing.
Berahino, wearing a black suit, white T-shirt and black shoes with no socks, claimed he drank two mojitos at the restaurant before his girlfriend drove to the VQ Cafe.
He said her ex-boyfriend was “very aggressive” when he arrived claiming she owed him £10,000, then returned later having removed his jewellery and changed his clothes.
Berahino told the court he was approached by four men, who he did not know, two of whom flashed weapons.
“I can see a knife on one male and the other had a gun – I could see the handle,” he said.
“I was scared, shocked. I just wanted to get away from there. I tried to get back in the car but one of them grabbed the door so me and him are fighting back-and-forth, back-and-forth.
“I was afraid for my life and my girlfriend and niece was there. I took a decision to run off because I was scared.”
Berahino said he tripped to the floor and CCTV footage played in court showed him being attacked by two men.
The court heard he was left with minor injuries and a torn t-shirt.
Berahino said he got back to the car where the rest of his companions were “panicked” and drove for less than 30 seconds, adding: “At the time I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.”