A DRUNK driver turned his car into a weapon and drove at a young woman and her partner as they walked home on Christmas Eve.
Father-of-one Lee Clarke, 23, was jailed for six and half years after ramming Sophia Meakin-Hogg and her then partner Skye Bullen, 22, on Christmas Eve in 2019. He then reversed his Golf and drove at the helpless couple a second time.
CCTV footage shows the moment Clarke used his car as a battering ram to attack Sophia and her then partner, Skye. He had turned his headlights off to avoid detection.
The couple had nipped out for a quick drink and were on their way home to wrap presents for Sophia's young daughter.
Sophia, 23, says: "Clarke could have killed us that night. He drove at us and for no reason other than he wanted to pick a fight with someone.
"I hope he learns his lesson in jail though I think he ought to have got a much longer sentence."
Sophia and Skye met in December 2018, and Sophia was already mum to a little girl, Layla, now three. They moved in together and the relationship was happy.
Sophia says: "Skye had a good job with an electrical company, he was great with my daughter, we were very much in love."
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It was Sophia's annual tradition to spend Christmas with her mum, Sheila, and the rest of her family in Rossendale, Lancs.
Sophia says: "Mum had offered to baby-sit so that me and Skye could pop out for a quick drink.
"The plan was just to have one drink and then pick up a pizza and go home. But as we walked into the pub and there was immediately a bad atmosphere. There was clearly some trouble with one group. We got our drinks and kept ourselves to ourselves but then two men from the group walked over and started abusing us.
"There was absolutely no reason for it. The men were clearly drunk and looking for a fight and we were the easy targets.
"But as we left some of the group followed and began shoving and pushing us in the street. Skye pushed back in self-defence once at the man, Lee Clarke, but apart from that he did not react at all.
"We walked away, down the street, and there was a commotion behind us. Before we could get out of the way, I saw a car without headlights driving right at us, onto the pavement.
"We were both hit by the car ramming us from the side of the pavement.
"I was in shock, lying on the ground, but then I heard the gears grinding into reverse and I realised in horror that he was going to hit us again. We scrambled to our feet, and I put my arms out, pleading in self-defence, then hit the bonnet as the car rammed us a second time.
“I got knocked to the ground again and the wheel went over my hair, with the car door scraping my face.
"He tried to speed away, but it took a chunk of my hair.
"After he'd gone, I was just hysterical with shock. I couldn't believe we were still alive. There were people crowding around us, some trying to stop the car, but it had disappeared.
The ambulance came and wanted to take us to hospital, but I just wanted to get home.
"All night, I lay awake. I kept thinking that we could have been killed.
Sophia suffered a gash to her head and cuts and bruising.
She says: "I could already feel my entire body throbbing with pain. I had bruises on my face, a gash to my head, and a patch of hair missing. I was in shock too. But by now, it was midnight, the first few minutes of Christmas Day. I knew I had to get home to my daughter.
"All night, I lay awake. I kept thinking that we could have been killed. How would my family have coped with that – on Christmas Eve? How would Layla have coped?
"The police came on Christmas morning to take our statements which was horrendous. I wanted Christmas to be lovely for Layla, and we had police in the house and I was covered in bruises.
"When Clarke was arrested, the police found my hair wrapped around his car tyre, which was sickening.”
Lee Clarke appeared before Burnley Crown Court in February 2021 and pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and two counts of assault. He was jailed for six and half years.
Judge Sara Dodd said: 'You drove your car deliberately at two people for no good reason at all.
'You had some disagreement with Mr Bullen over something that was nothing to do with you. It was put on your behalf that you "lost the plot".
'You used your vehicle as a weapon. It was an offence on a public street late at night when the pubs were emptying. It was Christmas Eve and there is a very significant ongoing effect on Miss Meakin-Hogg.'
Both victims received extensive trauma, including bumps and cuts to their heads and bruising to their bodies.
In a victim impact statement Sophia said her life had changed forever and she had been left anxious and scared following the attack.
Prosecutor Matthew Conway said: 'The defendant drove up behind them with his headlights off, in what we call an attempt to conceal himself.
'He pulled up alongside them and deliberately accelerated onto the pavement, knocking both victims to the ground.
'He reversed and accelerated again before reversing at speed while both victims were beside the vehicle, causing Ms Meakin-Hogg to tumble under the car door.'
The court heard how bouncers at a nearby nightclub attempted to stop the car from driving away after the incident, but Clarke managed to escape.
He was arrested on January 1 after handing himself in to police following an appeal but denied driving the car.
The defendant was released on police bail but in May 2020 he led officers on a high-speed pursuit from Rossendale to Burnley, Lancs.
At times Clarke reached speeds to up to 90mph. He evaded officers but was arrested in June. He told officers he 'panicked' when they asked him to pull over, causing him to speed off. He was again bailed.
Last August he was remanded in custody until his sentencing hearing this week after assaulting the mother of his child by dragging her out of her home.
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Clarke was said to be 'deeply sorry' for his crimes and acknowledged ruining peoples' lives with his behaviour.
During the incident Clarke continued to drive up and down Bacup Road a number of times and was only stopped when a member of the public threw a metal gate at the car's windscreen, said Lancashire Police.
Police were called at 11.30pm on Christmas Eve 2019.
Clarke, from Rossendale, was sentenced at Burnley Crown Court after he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
He also pleaded guilty to unrelated dangerous driving and assault offences, said police.
Detective Constable Melissa Chadwick said: 'Clarke made the conscious decision to turn his car into a weapon and it is extremely fortunate that it did not result in the death of his completely innocent victims or a member of the public.
'This incident caused a great deal of concern in the community at the time and I am glad this case has now been brought to a conclusion and Clarke will have a considerable time in custody to think about the consequences of his actions and how much worse it could have been.'
Sophia says now: "Clarke could have killed us that night. He drove at us and for no reason other than he wanted to pick a fight with someone. I hope he learns his lesson in jail though I think he ought to have got a much longer sentence.
"Christmas will be extra-special for me now, because I know how lucky I am to be alive. I won't let an idiot like Clarke spoil the festive season for me and my little girl."
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