Colliver back on the up after swapping his cell for a saddle
Joe Colliver does not blame anyone else for the incident that ultimately turned a high-flying conditional jockey into just another inmate at HM Prison Holme House in Stockton-on-Tees.
Colliver, who was sent to prison last year for attempting to pervert the course of justice after drink driving, spoke extensively and exclusively to the Racing Post for the first time since his release last October.
“I was having my best-ever season, but made a silly mistake,” he said on a stormy day at Sedgefield as he continues to rebuild his life.
“I’d been in the village with a few friends and had too much to drink and I got in the car on Christmas night.
“It had been raining and I aquaplaned coming round the bend. I remember looking at the wall and thinking ‘this is going to hurt’. The car went over three or four times, but luckily I came out with just a scratch.
“It was only two miles away so I ran home. The police picked me up at 2am. I was questioned but I panicked and denied everything, I told them it had been stolen. I didn’t want to lose my licence and the good career I had, and I didn’t want to let people down, to let them know I had done something so stupid.”
Bailed and rebailed on a charge of drink driving, he saw a solution in paying a friend – Lewis John Purdie – to tell the police that he had been driving the car.
“The idea just popped into my head,” he said. “He used to work in racing in Middleham and I thought it would put me in the clear.”
But mobile phone evidence and bloodstains found in the car disproved the story and the pair pleaded guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice at Teesside Crown Court last August.
Colliver, who also admitted drink driving, was sentenced to ten months in prison and found himself on his way to Holme House.
“I was in shock but I remember us coming off the bus one by one,” he said. “For some people it was almost an everyday experience, but I was like a little boy – I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t know what to expect. It was tough.
“I got a good job as a gym orderly. I was in there seven days a week and it helped pass the time. It also meant I had a cell to myself as my hours were not the same as the others’. So that was a big plus, having my own space and not having to watch my back as much – because once that door shuts, it’s shut for the night.”
'I didn't know what to do'
Colliver served three months before being released with an electronic tag fitted and a curfew imposed.
“It sounds silly, but walking out of the gates it felt easier to breathe,” he said. “It felt like clean air.
“I had got into the prison way of life in just three months as everything is regimented when you are inside and you soon learn what to do and what not to do for an easy life. So I was at a loss when I came out, I went to see the boss, went home to walk the dogs and it took me most of the afternoon to go a mile and a half as I didn’t know what to do!”
Colliver is full of thanks for the staunch support he has received from Micky Hammond, who spoke on his behalf in court and who took him back on after his release.
“I am working full-time – morning and evening stables – and I have got to prove myself to get back to where I was,” he said.
“It wasn’t easy going back into the yard, everyone has got their own point of view and it was crossing my mind what they were all thinking. But I have changed for the better and if somebody wants to judge me, then let them judge me.”
But even more nerve-racking was his return to the weighing room, after the BHA gave his licence back when his tag came off last month.
“Walking in at Wetherby for my first ride back was like having my first ever ride all over again,” he said. “It’s daunting to see all the big jocks and you think ‘they are looking at me’.
“But they all came up and shook my hand. Racing is a close-knit family and I got letters from Aidan Coleman, Henry Brooke, Brian Hughes, John Kington and others when I was inside – that meant a lot.”
Colliver is very thankful to the owners in Hammond’s yard who have continued to support him, even after he rode out his claim with the second winner of his comeback, and is actively seeking a sponsor.
“I only had two winners of my claim left when I came out, so I knew things were going to get hard,” he said. “But it’s only 3lb and it’s another kick up the backside to get going and prove to everybody what I can do.”