Court / Unst man walks free from court after driving case returns not proven verdict

THE CASE against a man from Unst accused of driving while unfit through drink or drugs ended in a not proven verdict following a trial lasting several hours at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Thursday.

William Ratter, of Brakefield in Haroldswick, had been charged with driving on the A968 between the Final Checkout and the Skibhoul shops in Baltasound in the afternoon of 1 March last year while allegedly unfit to do so.

But after hearing from five crown witnesses and following a lengthy and at times heated cross examination of the 53-year-old accused himself, Sheriff Ian Cruickshank said he was not convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” that Ratter was guilty of the charge under section four of the road traffic act.

Describing the case as “interesting in some respects” the sheriff said he had found all Crown witnesses credible and reliable and also did not believe everything Ratter had told him – but he continued to be not entirely convinced of his guilt.


The court heard how Ratter had bought a bottle of whisky at the Final Checkout and then, while on his way to Baltasound’s other shop, failed to properly negotiate the Gutter Street junction, which is next to the former police station on the island.

Two child witnesses, both 13 years old, described how his red car mounted a dyke there, knocked down a few stones from the dyke and which, disputedly, also resulted in a fence post ending up on the road.

Ratter then drove off at speed toward the Skibhoul Stores shop, which he entered. He was described by another witness as “limping exaggeratedly up the aisle” and appeared to be “argumentative” in his exchange with the shop assistant over a package of cold meat he purchased.

He was described to have been “in some way intoxicated” and another witness who had given a statement to a police officer afterwards felt Ratter’s speech was slurred.

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Crucially, no-one said they had smelt alcohol when near him.

There was also a suggestion that had he been unfit to drive he could have hit the children who were walking their dogs along the street.

Taking to the witness stand himself, Ratter freely admitted that he was drinking heavily at times as a way of self-medicating.

He said he was suffering from severe back pain which makes him walk bent over, sometimes with a limp, and numbs his legs. Because of that, he said, he has difficulties getting into the car but insisted that his condition did not affect his ability to drive.

He said his painkillers do not always work and he regularly turns to alcohol to make the pain bearable, freely admitting to be mixing both and also having a dependency on alcohol.


Asked how much he was drinking he responded: “One bottle of spirits or two, depending on the pain”.

Ratter insisted that he would not get into his vehicle when over the limit as he was dependent on his car and would breathalyse himself before heading out.

On the day in question, he said, he had tested in the morning and found to be over the limit. As a result, he only got in the car later in the afternoon.

He said while driving towards the Skibhoul shop he saw the children and waved as everybody does in Unst.

He admitted he did a poor job in negotiating the junction and said one of his car’s wheels had entered the verge but he had not mounted the dyke as had been stated by the witnesses. “I was barely off the road,” he said.

In the shop, he said his speech was not slurred but appeared different because he did not have his false teeth in and was also wearing a face mask.


Ratter then gave procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie a demonstration from the witness stand as to how his speech changes without teeth and while wearing a shawl as a mask.

He said after leaving the shop he was heading home and then cracked open the bottle of whisky he bought earlier in the day. By the time police arrived there was only one “good dram” left in the bottle.

When he was breathalysed “a good while later” he had 115 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath, about five times the legal limit for driving.

Cross-examined by the fiscal, Ratter agreed with Mackenzie’s suggestion that he was “victim of a curious set of circumstances”.

He said all those who had given evidence had been making the same mistake in what they perceived to have witnessed.


Defending Ratter, solicitor Tommy Allan told the sheriff that the issue for him to decide was whether the Crown had proven beyond reasonable doubt that Ratter had been unfit to drive at the time.

Allan said his client is loud and argumentative as had been proven by his performance in the witness stand, and it is something that he freely admits.

“But there is no evidence that he smelt of alcohol, and he has given a detailed explanation about the limping and the pain,” the solicitor added.

“He also clearly accepted that he had been drinking most of the bottle afterwards.”

In coming to a verdict, Sheriff Cruickshank said it was important to remember that Ratter was innocent until found guilty.

“Taken all the evidence together I have reasonable doubt and therefore I find you not proven,” he said.


Space2face Shetland

Space2face Shetland is an independent and confidential service which uses Restorative Justice and the arts to bring those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for the harm into communication. We enable everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.

If you would like to reach out to us, please contact us via e-mail info@space2face.org or mobile 07564 832467.

If you would like to know more, visit our website www.space2face.org, or our Facebook page #space2faceshetland.

The project is also currently fundraising to secure office space in Shetland’s brand-new creativity and wellness centre, The Mission. If you’re interested in getting involved, or making a donation, head over to www.space2face.org/how-you-can-help



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