A MAN whose relatives died in a swimming tragedy turned to drink to cope with his grief, a court heard.

At Bolton Magistrates Court dad-of-three Joboy Joseph pleaded guilty to drink driving for a second time within 10 months and was handed a suspended prison sentence.

In August last year Bolton cousins Jason Varghese, 15, and Joel Aniyankunj, 19, drowned in a lake while on holiday in Austria.

Joseph, who was described in court as head of the family, flew out to arrange for the bodies to be brought home. Jane Novas-Morell, defending, said he had never got over the deaths and had turned to drink. “He accepts that when he feels very low alcohol is there as a crutch,” she said.

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In January he was caught drink driving, given a community sentence and banned from the roads for 27 months.

But Steve Woodman, prosecuting, told magistrates that just 10 months later, last Sunday evening, Joseph was driving his family’s Mercedes when it collided with an Audi A5 on St Helens Road just before 7pm

Joseph, aged 39, of Radbourne Grove, Ladybridge, ran off, only returning to the scene after he called his wife and she persuaded him to. He was detained by Zuber Lulat, whose wife Sofia had been driving the Audi and police were called.

“The officers noticed that he smelled strongly of intoxicants and his eyes were glazed over,” said Mr Woodman.

“He denied being the driver of the Mercedes, stating that it had been his wife who had been driving and that she had also fled the scene.”

But keys to the Mercedes were found in his pocket and dashcam footage from the Audi proved he had been driving.

Joseph, who works as a computer technician, was taken to hospital and when his breath was tested five hours after the collision it still read more than twice the legal alcohol limit.

Joseph, who pleaded guilty to drink driving, driving while banned and having no insurance, told police that he had been on his way home when the crash happened.

“He stated that on the night in question he had been to a friend’s house in Farnworth,” said Mr Woodman.

“He had been drinking shots of brandy and he had then driven home He stated that he had panicked and initially blamed his wife but admitted that was a false allegation.”

The court heard that Mr Lulat’s car was so badly damaged that it will probably be written off and the couple suffered injuries

Appealing to magistrates not to immediately jail Joseph, Mrs Novas-Morell said: “He is under no illusion as to the serious position he is in. He fully accepts he deserves to be punished for this offence.

“He has had two nights in the cells at the police station and obviously has had time to reflect.”

She stressed that a prison sentence would cause “huge suffering” to his wife and three young children.

“He acknowledges that there are issues with alcohol,” said Mrs Novas-Morell, who added that until this year he drank only lightly, but the deaths of his relatives have “taken their toll.”

“He started to drink to cope with what was going on,” she said. “He accepts that at certain times, when he is feeling very low, alcohol is still there as a crutch.”

She added that Joseph’s wife, who works as a nurse, had tried to persuade him to get counselling.

“Being a man he decided not to do that but only, as of late, has agreed that counselling is probably the way forwards if the family are to get through what has happened to them in the last few months,” she said.

On the day of the crash Joseph, who is a Christian, had been called by a friend who was feeling low.

“Mr Joseph, unfortunately, made the decision to take the family’s motor vehicle and drive to the friend’s house in Farnworth,” said Mrs Novas-Morell

Joseph was given a 16 week suspended prison sentence and will be subject to a 7pm to 7am curfew for 20 weeks. In addition he was banned from driving for four years, must pay his victim £300 in compensation as well as paying £85 towards prosecution costs and a £122 victim surcharge.

Chairman of the Bench, Peter Jones told Joseph: “You could have killed two innocent people. Have you got anything to say about your actions over this?”

Joseph, the the dock, replied: “It was a big mistake for me.”

Mr Jones added: “I agree - it was a massive mistake. You showed total disregard in this.

“You were not just over the alcohol limit, you were way over the limit.

“But we are prepared to give you a benefit of the doubt and suspend this sentence.”

Joseph vowed to the magistrates: “I am not going to drink any more.”