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By ESPN Staff

Sunderland speedster blames Toon Army

A Premier League footballer accelerated to 112mph to escape what he thought were fans from his team's bitter rivals - only to discover it was the police.

Sunderland midfielder Grant Leadbitter, 23, had clashed with Newcastle United fans during a rare night out in the city.

He became convinced the rival fans were trying to follow him home to County Durham as he drove across the Tyne Bridge and through Gateshead towards the A1.

So when he reached the three-lane section of the road near the Angel of the North, he accelerated away in his powerful red BMW M6 to try to shake them off.

When he put his foot down, the car behind accelerated. When he slowed, the car behind slowed and when he switched lanes, the other car changed lanes.

Eventually, the police patrol Volvo hit 112mph and as the officer struggled to keep up activated the car's blue lights.

At Gateshead Magistrates' Court yesterday, Leadbitter, from Seaton, County Durham, admitted speeding but pleaded special reasons why he should not be banned or given penalty points.

The player said that when he noticed the police car following him, he thought it was Newcastle United fans. "My heart was beating fast, I was scared and I wanted to get home as quickly as possible,'' he told the court.

The police officer, Sergeant Lynee McKevitt, said her attention was drawn to Leadbitter because of the manner of his driving when he overtook her and she decided to follow him.

"I would describe his driving as aggressive,'' she said. "He was accelerating harshly and breaking harshly.''

When she stopped Leadbitter she showed him the video. She said he accepted that his speed was dangerous and he was very apologetic.

After viewing the video, District Judge Roger Elsey said he accepted Leadbitter was upset and believed he was being followed because of what had happened earlier in the pub.

But he had overtaken the sergeant, and if he had been paying attention he would have realised the vehicle following him was the one he had overtaken.

"While I accept he may have thought the vehicle from Askew Road was following him, he could not have thought it was following him from Newcastle city centre and therefore I do not find there are special reasons not to endorse or disqualify him,'' he said.

"I do consider, however, that his belief from Askew Road, though unreasonable, was genuine and that reduces the sentence I would otherwise have imposed.''

The court confirmed that Leadbitter was banned from driving for 14 days, fined £250 and ordered to pay £250 prosecution costs plus a £15 victim's surcharge.

A Sunderland AFC spokeswoman said it was a private matter and the club would not be commenting.

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