Cops who chased swerving van find four-year-old driving with drunk dad

Police who chased a swerving van driven erratically through a town found the driver was a boy aged just four.

The youngster was steering the vehicle and tooting on the horn while his dad Patrick Kearney operated the pedals.

Officers set off in pursuit with flashing blue lights after receiving reports from other motorists about the way the van was being driven through Darlington, Co Durham.

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Kearney, 41, was believed to be under the influence of booze and drugs at the time.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the boy carried on driving despite being pursued by police.

When the van stopped Kearney was seen to dash to a house with the youngster in his arms and hand the boy to another man.

Police arrested the dad who behaved in an offensive and aggressive manner, the court heard.

Nigel Soppitt, prosecuting, said the boy told officers: "My dad let's me help with the driving all the time.''

At the age of four the boy is below the age of criminal responsibility which means he cannot be prosecuted in the courts as he is deemed too young to be responsible for his actions.

Mr Soppitt said the chase, which started on April 13 at 6pm, was a "fairly prolonged incident with a child at the wheel of a car".

Kearney was jailed for 16 months after admitting child cruelty, dangerous driving while disqualified and without insurance, refusing to give a specimen of breath and using offensive words and behaviour.

Judge Jonathan Carroll told him: "It was a busy road at a busy time of the day and you were operating the pedals and the driver was your four-year-old child

"The ill judgement in doing that simply beggars belief.

"Not only were you putting other road users at risk you were putting your child at risk.

"It is quite clear that you are a danger on the road and should be kept off the road.''

Kearney, from Darlington, was banned from driving for three years and eight months and until he passes an extended test.

The court heard he banged his head inside the police van after his arrest and told officers at the station he had swallowed 200 sleeping pills and should be taken to hospital.

Police suspected he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol but he refused to provide a specimen for analysis.

Emma Williams, mitigating, said: "He is an alcoholic and he has an addiction.

"The van belonged to his employer and there is a job waiting for him when he is released.''

She said he had been cooperating with drink and drugs counsellors whilst on remand in Durham Prison and his new partner was expecting his second child in November.

Kearney has a long criminal record.

In 2017 he was jailed for eight months after forcing drivers off the road as he fled two police cars.

He had clocked up 42 previous offences including wounding and carrying an offensive weapon.

In 2020 he was jailed for two years after punching and threatening to kill another man.

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