Former Australian olympic sprinter avoids jail term with depression plea

FORMER Olympian Darren Clark feared he was going to jail when he faced a NSW court today over a string of traffic offences. But the former champion athlete, who still holds the Australian men’s 400m senior and junior records, escaped with bonds on two counts of driving while disqualified and one count of speeding, after his appearance in Bathurst Local Court. In sentencing Clark, magistrate Thomas Hodgson said he took into account evidence that Clark had suffered from depression and a doctor’s report that said he was “a lost individual”. 

Outside court, Clark said he had received support from people in his home town of Bathurst and was thankful he had been given good behavior bonds for his driving offences. “It could easily have been jail,” Clark said. “I came here not knowing what to expect, but I remained positive and focused. But I did have thoughts of spending my next birthday (September 6) in jail.” Moments earlier, Mr. Hodgson had told Clark: “I feel very sorry for you. No doubt depression has had an effect on your career and private life.” Mr. Hodgson said he had considered jailing Clark because of his previous traffic record.

In March 2004, Clark was given a six-month suspended sentence for twice driving while his license had been suspended – a disqualification until October 28, 2007. But since then, Clark had been picked up driving while disqualified at Kelso on February 21 and March 30 this year. Mr. Hodgson ordered Clark to enter good behavior bonds for two years and disqualified him from driving for another two years, putting him off the road until October 28, 2009. As well, he fined Clark $200 for exceeding a 50kph speed limit.

The magistrate said he had taken into account also Clark’s early guilty pleas and solicitor Leigh Haywood’s extensive submissions. “If you breach these bonds, you will come back to court for sentence and you will go to jail,” Mr. Hodgson said. Ms Haywood said a Probation & Parole Service pre-sentence report had been pessimistic about Clark’s prospects for rehabilitation. But, she said, while he had mental difficulties and doctors had said he was a lost individual who required medication to maintain his focus, he was not a hopeless case. He had been out of trouble for two years before coming to police notice twice in two weeks, she said.

In spite of his depression, Clark had not taken to alcohol or responded to frustrations in his domestic or public life. He was settling very well into family life and was a good, attentive father to his children. Clark said many people supported him in Bathurst, where he would continue to live near his partner, and son, Joseph. “I need to focus on my health and family,” Clark said. “Getting medical help, remaining positive and focused on what is ahead. I’d like to coach track and field again.”

Clark’s father, Eddy Clark, came from Forster, on the mid-north coast, to the central west town to support his son today. “He’s got to stop driving cars until he gets his license back,” Mr. Clark said. Clark said he had learned a lesson and would now use his bicycle as transport. He is also studying to become a security guard. He thanked Mr. Hodgson for showing an understanding of people who suffer from depression.