A “VERY FOOLISH”motorist has been banned after he tried to get away from police by driving onto the wrong side of Exeter’s famous bascule bridge.

Businessman Mark Holmes panicked when three police cars surrounded his Nissan Qashqai on Bridge Road in Exeter. They were about to box him in when he veered onto the other side of the road.

There are traffic barriers on that stretch of the road and so he was stuck facing oncoming traffic for 100 metres before he returned to the proper lane and was stopped by police.

The police wanted to intercept the car because they were suspicious of one of Holmes’s passengers and had been following it since it left Palace Gate in the centre of Exeter.

He told officers that he did not realise he was being chased by the police and thought he was being followed by a gang of Albanians.

Holmes, aged 39, of Hunivers Place, Crediton, admitted dangerous driving and was banned for driving for a year, and ordered to do 75 hours of unpaid work and pay £300 costs by Judge Neil Davey, KC, at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him: “You pulled onto the opposite carriageway and drove around a barrier. Mercifully, there was no oncoming traffic. It was dangerous for a short time but there was no suggestion of excessive speed and it was only for 100 metres.”

Mr Ian Graham, prosecuting, said a marked police car followed the Nissan out of the centre of Exeter on the night of January 23 this year and it was clear that the driver knew he was being followed because he doubled back on himself or went round roundabouts more than once.

The car  stopped briefly in Marsh Barton before continuing and by the time Holmes reached Bridge Road two more police cars had joined the pursuit and they tried to box him in. He responded by going onto the wrong side of the road as he crossed the bridge.

He later told police in a prepared statement that he had panicked because he thought he was being followed by Albanians.

Miss Felicity Payne, defending, said the brief foray onto the wrong side of the road had been the only piece of poor driving during the incident and that Holmes had never exceeded the speed limit.

She said he has just started a new business as a “car wrapper” which involves the specialist decoration of vehicles. He hopes to be able to continue without a driving licence and to get to work by pedal bike.

She said: “He made a wrong decision and went the wrong side of the barrier. It was in the hours of darkness and there was no suggestion of any traffic coming the other way. It was very foolish and could have been very bad but at that time of night it was unlikely to occur.”

The bridge over the Exeter Canal on the main road from Countess Wear to Exminster and Dawlish is unusual because it is in fact two different sorts of bridge. One is a lifting bascule bridge and the other is a swing bridge.

Local legend has it that it was used by airborne troops to train for D-Day during the Second World War because it is so similar to the Pegasus Bridge at Caen, which was one of the first and most important objectives.