A police officer who caused a public outcry when he was cleared of dangerous driving and speeding after reaching an "eye-watering" 159mph must face a fresh trial, the High Court ruled yesterday.
Pc Mark Milton, aged 38, from Telford, Shropshire, was acquitted after a district judge accepted that he was "driving for police purposes" when he sped at more than twice the speed limit while familiarising himself with a new high-performance police car and "honing his driving skills".
District Judge Bruce Morgan, sitting at Ludlow Magistrates' Court last May, dismissed charges against Pc Milton - a grade one advanced driver and armed response officer with the West Mercia Police - after describing him as the "creme de la creme" of police drivers.
But yesterday Lady Justice Hallett, sitting with Mr Justice Owen, allowed an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions and ruled that the district judge had gone wrong in law and there must be a re-trial before a differently-constituted tribunal.
Later Pc Milton's solicitor, David Twigg, said the ruling could have "potentially seismic consequences" for training police drivers on a national basis.
Lady Justice Hallett invited the chief constable of West Mercia, and any other chief constables affected, to instigate a review as to whether police drivers were being "encouraged to hone their skills in unfamiliar vehicles at grossly excessive speeds on unfamiliar roads".
Ordering a new trial for Pc Milton, she said Mr Morgan had taken into account matters which were "simply inadmissible", including opinions of senior officers that Pc Milton's driving was not dangerous.
She agreed with Edmund Lawson QC, appearing for the DPP, that whether a driver was "a total incompetent or Stirling Moss - or Jenson Button" was irrelevant.
She expressed concern that Pc Milton had reached "grossly excessive, eye-watering speeds" without any warning lights or siren to warn other motorists of his approach at a time when he was not responding to an emergency or attempting to prevent crime.
He had driven a car "capable of speeds and acceleration most of us associate with top of the range Italian sports cars".
He had sped at more than twice the relevant speed limits in the early hours of December 5 2003, reaching 159mph on the M54, 131mph on the A5 - and 91mph in urban 30mph areas.
Mr Morgan had concluded that, given Pc Milton's advanced driving skills, knowledge of the locality and the fact that the driving occurred on relatively deserted roads in good conditions, "dangerous driving was not established".
But the district judge had made no reference to the possible effect of Pc Milton's driving on other road users, said Lady Justice Hallett.
He also did not make reference to "highly significant" evidence from a video recording of Pc Milton's driving, including the nature of the roads concerned and the hazards.
These included the road junctions in built-up areas with a 30mph speed restriction where Pc Milton drove at over 90mph, giving no warning of his approach to other road users.
"I consider it a failure on the part of the district judge not to have taken account of the effect upon other road users of somebody coming at this speed into their path."
Even though the district judge had said that the roads were sparsely populated with traffic, he had failed to take account of what might have happened if another driver had pulled out suddenly to overtake a slow-moving lorry, or pulled out of an urban street junction and been taken by surprise.
But she stressed that she had declined to find Pc Milton "as a matter of law" guilty of dangerous driving.
She said speed alone was not sufficient to found a conviction of dangerous driving.
"It has to be a question of speed in the context of all the circumstances."