A care assistant who admitted drunkenly driving the wrong way along a motorway for four miles has been given a suspended jail term.
Katy Homer, 27, who previously pleaded guilty to driving with excess alcohol and dangerous driving, was told by judge Michael Dudley at Wolverhampton Crown Court today that she had committed a "very serious driving offence" which passed the custody threshold.
Sentencing Homer, of Clent View Road, Halesowen, West Midlands, he handed her a four-month jail term, suspended for 12 months, with 180 hours of unpaid work and a year's supervision by probation services for the dangerous driving offence.
For driving with excess alcohol she was given a month in prison, also suspended for 12 months, to run concurrently, banned from driving for three years, and ordered to pay £200 costs.
Footage of the incident played in court showed oncoming lorry drivers flashing their headlights as Homer drove her Vauxhall Astra north on a southbound section of the M5 in the West Midlands.
Alka Brigue, prosecuting, said one lorry driver later told police of the moment he saw the headlights of Homer's car approaching him at speed and head-on along the slip road.
She said: "It left him feeling scared.
"It was his daughter's birthday - he envisaged that somebody would be killed, and that he might never see his wife and daughter again."
Ms Brigue said that, at the last moment, Homer "swerved" across to the hard shoulder, avoiding a collision.
Traffic police stopped Homer after she eventually exited the M5 in West Bromwich in the early hours of December 4 last year, having joined the motorway at the previous junction in nearby Oldbury.
Officers were dealing with a crash when they spotted Homer leaving the motorway, busy with HGV traffic, using an entry slip road.
Ms Brigue said the police first tried to wave her down as she twice went the wrong way around the roundabout junction, and eventually halted her by stepping out into the road and flashing their torches.
Homer, her eyes red, was breathalysed and later blew a reading of 79 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, which is more than twice the legal limit of 35mcg.
Malcolm Fowler, in mitigation, said his client was of previous good character and was "deeply, bitterly ashamed" of her actions.
He said friends, family and her GP all attested to the behaviour being "wholly out-of-character" for the single mother-of-three.
However, he added Homer had been dealing with a depressive illness which may have been affected by a "disastrous relationship" with a former partner.
He said: "Everything indicates that against very considerable personal adversity the defendant has kept in very reasonable work and been an extraordinarily good mother to her three children."
Mr Fowler said it was "these pressures, with the under-tow of depression" that went some way towards explaining why she got in her car drunk and drove the wrong way along the motorway.
He added the impact on Homer, whose driving licence was previously clean, had hit "very hard" and he claimed had led to one of her children being bullied at school.
Homer's father, who was in court supporting his daughter, was "a professional driver", Mr Fowler added, and the crimes had no doubt therefore brought particular "dishonour and shame".
Speaking after sentence outside court, a remorseful Homer said she was "sorry" for her actions.
Her father, who gave his name as Robert, added: "She's sorry for what she has done and she just wants to put this behind her now and focus on the children".
Commenting on the case, Inspector Dave Southam, of West Midlands Police, said: "There is no doubt how serious this incident could have been.
"CCTV footage from the time shows other vehicles having to move out of the way.
"Thankfully, due to the time of day, the motorway was not as busy as it otherwise might have been and so no significant harm was caused to others.
"Ultimately driving whilst under the influence poses a risk to both the driver and others on the road - regardless of whether it is on a motorway or a quiet side street, and this case will hopefully serve as a warning to others who make the dangerous mistake of getting behind the wheel after they've had a drink."
Sean Kyne, of West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service, said Homer's "irresponsible actions not only put herself in danger but other road users too".
He added: "It was fortunate this dangerous act was undertaken at a time when traffic conditions were light or the risks would have been substantially increased.
"We hope this case sends out a clear message that driving when drunk is extremely dangerous and offenders will be prosecuted."