Life in suspension

A PERTH man who served Australia’s longest driving licence suspension before it was overturned on appeal has been knocked back for an ex-gratia payment, despite claims it ruined his life.

David Tubbs was just 19 in 1985, when he made the fateful decision to get behind the wheel of a mate’s car after a couple of beers. The car was a bit of a clunker and caught the eye of two police officers on patrol, who pulled him over for a breath test.

Mr Tubbs blew slightly over the limit, but despite this being his first offence and there being no car chase or accident involved, the police prosecutor went hard and convinced a stand-in magistrate to hand down a 50-year suspension.

“I had a family, a mortgage; my partner had just become pregnant and we’d just bought our first house down in Kwinana, but the buses didn’t start until 8.30am,” Mr Tubbs says.

He’d been working at the Robb’s Jetty abattoir, but without public transport it was impossible to get there for the start of shift.

“I wouldn’t drive for six, seven months, then the bills would get too much and I’d start driving to support my family.”

Eventually that would land him back to court, but as the decades stacked up, even the most severe judges were finding it uncomfortable punishing him further.

• David Tubbs served Australia’s longest-serving driving license suspension and says it ruined his life. Photo by Steve Grant

Tragic turn

“I got gaoled for four months.

“It was when the government introduced legislation where you were automatically gaoled if you got three strikes.

“The judge was sympathetic, saying ‘the government has tied our hands. I have to send you to gaol even though you are innocent’.”

The strain on his family became intolerable and Mr Tubbs and his wife split. It took a tragic turn when she suffered a breakdown and stabbed him in the heart, nearly taking his life.

“The reason my wife had a breakdown was because of the stress of living for 15 years not knowing if she was going to have a home over her head,” Mr Tubbs said.

The pair are still in contact now, but the impact of the injury has left him permanently disabled.

Although the court visits were costly for Mr Tubbs, ironically they ended up being his salvation; a police prosecutor who’d sat on four of his cases was so moved by what he perceived as a gross injustice that he personally approached legal aid to take on Mr Tubbs’ case.

He’d previously been knocked back eight times, making it impossible to lodge an appeal.

Rubbing salt in the wound, it’s his lack of appeal that the attorney general’s office quoted as the reason for knocking back his compensation bid.

Mr Tubbs said there’s one more sting in his tale; just after his initial sentencing his lawyer received a letter from the court acknowledging there’d been a miscarriage of justice and telling him to appear again for a re-sentencing.

Sans lawyer, who’d thought a sentence reduction was a no-brainer and he’d not be needed, Mr Tubbs appeared in court and was mortified when the original magistrate only knocked off a few dollars from his fine.

It was the last day he’d have been able to appeal the decision before he’d need to take it to the Supreme Court.

Mr Tubbs says he’s speaking out now because he doesn’t want to give up his fight for compensation.

Attorney general John Quigley wouldn’t comment on the case.

by STEVE GRANT

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