Dyson learns hard lesson

By VERNON SMALL deputy political editor

Former Associate Health Minister Ruth Dyson is "absolutely determined" not to repeat her drink-driving lapse, after being fined $600 and disqualified from driving for six months.

Ms Dyson, who pleaded guilty at a brief hearing in the Wellington District Court yesterday, had a breath-alcohol reading of 744 micrograms per litre of breath - almost twice the legal limit of 400 - when she was stopped by police early on October 31 near her home in central Wellington.

She resigned her portfolios, including Disability Issues and Associate Minister for Accident Insurance, that day.

After the hearing, she repeated Judge Phillip Connell's view that he had treated her like any other citizen.

"I'm going to pay the fine, hand in my licence. I'm really pleased that this incident is over and everyone can get on with their lives now.

"I made a very serious mistake. I don't think it is possible for me to be able to feel more sorry for that."

Judge Connell, who ordered Ms Dyson to pay costs of $130, accepted defence lawyer David Stevenson's submission that she had suffered "a very public fall from grace."

The prosecutor, Sergeant Graeme Burr, said that after she was stopped, Ms Dyson had admitted having a few drinks at work but did not think she was over the limit.

He said Ms Dyson had a past conviction unrelated to drink-driving. She had previously disclosed a conviction for possession of cannabis in 1975.

Asked later how it was possible to be nearly twice the legal reading yet believe at the time she had not been over the limit, Ms Dyson said: "I have learned a very serious and hard lesson, and I deeply regret that it took that incident to make me realise."

She was strongly opposed to drink-driving, and was pleased it was increasingly less accepted by society.

But she would not discuss other details of the affair, saying all the information that was in the public interest had been released.

She said she believed she had done the right thing by immediately resigning her portfolios.

Her husband, Martin Ward, and two Diplomatic Protection Squad members accompanied her at the court.

A police spokeswoman said there were no special circumstances that required the police presence.

Prime Minister Helen Clark has indicated that Ms Dyson may be reinstated to the Executive at some time, citing similar moves by the Blair Government in Britain.

Ms Dyson, who was a minister outside the cabinet, has continued to work on ACC policy and kept her office in Bowen House, although she has lost her ministerial salary and other perks.

She retains one secretary. The rest of her nine staff have been allocated to other ministers.

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