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Drunken Dartmouth ferry 'pirate' woman jailed

By Herald Express  |  Posted: September 21, 2012


A DRUNKEN woman stole a passenger ferry on the River Dart and shouted 'I'm Jack Sparrow' and 'I'm a pirate' as she drifted away from police on the shore, a court has been told.

Alison Whelan (pictured below), 51, had been on a two-day bender drinking Lambrini and eating hallucinogenic plants when she sought late-night shelter with a companion on the Dart Princess Passenger Ferry. When police arrived to speak to her she unmoored the 45ft vessel from the Kingswear pontoon and set off up the river.

Magistrates didn't see the funny side of her hour-long drunken escapade — which left several boats damaged and involved 30 members of the emergency services landing the tax payer with a hefty bill — as Whelan was sent to jail.

The court in Torquay was told that Whelan and her friend Tristam Locke could be heard laughing and shouting from the deck 'what are you going to do now?' and 'I believe this is out of your jurisdiction' as they breezed away.

They carried on screaming abuse as the vessel trundled up the Dart bumping into other boats 'like a pinball machine', oblivious to the damage they were causing.

Whelan, formerly of Oxford Street, Dartmouth and now of Totnes Road, Paignton, was sent to jail for 112 days after being found guilty of aggravated vehicle taking.

The incident happened in the early hours of September 10 last year when paramedics were called to the boat by Whelan who feared she was having a seizure.

When they got there they found the defendant 'rambling' and obviously drunk while Locke became abusive and pushed one of the medics over.

Ambulance technician Peter Jordan said he and his colleague waited in their vehicle a few yards away from the ferry for police to arrive.

As they watched through the wing mirror the ferry started to move.

"We saw it drifting down the estuary," Mr Jordan said.

"I heard a female voice saying they were pirates and asking what are we going to do now?"

When police arrived they asked where the suspects were to be told they were 200 yards away and heading towards dozens of other moored vessels.

Whelan later told police she untied two or three of the ropes connecting the boat to the shore because she kept tripping over them.

She said before she knew it she felt the boat moving and 'noticed the hotels getting a long way away'.

Police joined lifeboat crew on the river trying to intercept the boat. The harbour master was also alerted.

But the errant suspects shouted abuse from the out-of-control boat and made jokes about being kidnapped, the court was told.

Police watched as the vessel span into a £70,000 fibreglass catamaran called Force Majeure causing £300 of damage and a moored vessel called Tomcat.

It finally came to rest in still water about a mile or so upstream.

When arrested Whelan said they would have ended up in St Tropez if they hadn't been caught.

She admitted that she and Locke had been on a drinking spree around Torbay and she had consumed deadly nightshade, which is poisonous and caused her to hallucinate.

She admitted she could get a 'bit cocky' when drunk but said she panicked when she saw the police.

Kenneth Lane, who owns the ferry, said he had moored the boat securely with seven ropes an hour or so before it was taken. It was not seriously damaged.

Magistrates had to decide whether Whelan, a chronic alcoholic who is awaiting a liver transplant, unhitched all the ropes knowing she would float away.

She denied the charge but magistrates found her guilty and she was also in breach of a four-month suspended sentence.

PC Clare Pearson, who investigated the incident said after the hearing: "This lady put the police, ambulance and coastguard to an awful lot of trouble. The amount of people called out to recover the boat and the damage caused to other vessels made it quite an expensive night."

Tristam Locke, of High Street, Crediton, was fined £100 at a separate court case last year after admitting assaulting an ambulance technician by beating.

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