IT was a horrific accident that claimed the life of a young boy, the driver so drunk he could hardly stand and unable to remember where he was going.

Yet, astonishingly, one of the most senior judges in England deemed the tragedy only merited just 18 months when he sat at Hampshire Assizes.

Michael Fairrie, 28, had been so obnoxious that a landlord personally ejected him from his pub.

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A well-meaning friend, knowing he was not fit to drive, pleaded with him to stay at a local hotel but he was shoved aside as the farmer staggered into his vehicle.

Tragedy lay ahead.

A garage owner was sitting on a wall with his son when they heard the sound of an approaching car.

At an adjacent bend, Fairrie lost control of his car which crossed the verge and crashed into the youngster who was instantly killed.

It then careered down the road, running into a man pushing a wheelbarrow that was smashed to smithereens. The severely injured pedestrian was carried along the bonnet for some 50 yards before he fell off.

Fairrie drove on until he was finally stopped by the police.

"Where are you going?" one demanded, smelling the stench of alcohol on his breath.

"I don't know," he slurred. "But I have a caravan at Poole."

Bournemouth Echo: Poole High Street featured in an old postcard.

When challenged that he was drunk, Fairrie mumbled: "I call it jolly decent of you, I do really. I admit I had lots to drink and admit I am tight. I am tight."

Asked to produce his driving licence, he pulled out a John Bull repairing outfit and a sparking plug.

Getting out of his car, he stumbled: "I am tight, quite right. The insurance company wins. They will say Michael Dennie Fairrie was tight and they will be right."

The farmer was oblivious he had killed the child and knocked down a man: "You say I have. Show me the body and I will believe it."

Less than three weeks after the horrific accident near Devizes, a repentant Fairrie appeared at the Assizes on July 2, 1931, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

A head injury formed the kernel of the mitigation put forward for Fairrie who had attended Sandhurst and served in Egypt. Since resigning his army commission, he had been made a territorial officer.

Addressing the court, G D 'Khaki' Roberts said he could not palliate the extreme gravity of the offence.

"That is realised by no one more than the prisoner himself. He is a man of decent, charitable character and there is no one who regretted the misery and suffering he has caused. Although the prisoner had had enough to drink, he had suffered considerably in his head. He was not so hopelessly drunk that he did not know what he was doing, having negotiated at least four bad corners. Then came this terrible crash."

Bournemouth Echo: Sandhurst as featured in an old postcard.

The shock of the accident and the effects of concussion and head injuries had reduced him to "almost a jibbering idiot."

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Avory denounced Fairrie: "In a most disgusting state of intoxication, you not only resented but forcibly resisted attempts that were made to prevent you getting into that car by persons who realised you were totally unable to drive at all, and so you proceeded on this reckless course.

"I do not know whether to believe that you were so intoxicated you did not know you had run into and killed that child and that you did not know you had run into that wheelbarrow and very nearly killed the man working with it, or whether you had no idea. If you had any idea, you then proceeded on your way in the hope I suppose of evading detection."

Though denigrating the case as one of the worst of its kind, the judge passed a sentence that would have caused outrage and been referred to the Court of Appeal - jailing him for 18 months, albeit with hard labour, and withdrawing his licence for life.

Roberts remarkably urged the judge to remove the hard labour requirement because of his previous good character but the judge refused.

However, he did grant permission for Fairrie's father to see him in the cells before he was removed to Winchester Prison.

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