A bus driver has been jailed for three years for crashing a double-decker school bus into a railway bridge, ripping the roof off, and injuring 41 youngsters, three of them seriously.
Martin Walker pleaded guilty to three charges of causing injury by dangerous driving in connection with the incident, which happened while he was taking 74 pupils aged between 11 and 16 to Henry Beaufort School in Winchester, Hampshire, on September 10 last year.
Sentencing the 37-year-old at Winchester Crown Court, Judge Angela Morris told him: “The entire roof of the bus was effectively sliced off by your actions, with the result that those students on the upper deck were left with varying degrees of injuries and trauma.
“It’s clear that many of those young passengers were left injured, traumatised and distraught on that morning.
“In respect of the three students who fell victim to the most serious injuries, it is clear that each of them has been permanently scarred, both physically and emotionally, as a result of your dangerous behaviour.”
Nicholas Cotter, prosecuting, told the court that Stagecoach employee Walker had been driving the route for the first time when he had taken a wrong turn without realising.
He then proceeded to drive the 13ft 11in high bus under the 12ft bridge in Wellhouse Lane at a speed of 10mph.
Mr Cotter said: “This is an experienced man who should have known the size of his vehicle and the responsibilities he had driving it.
“The defendant seemingly paid no heed to the height restriction signage that was in place en route to the bridge.
“A number of students spotted they were going the wrong way and voiced their concerns, and it appears some of them were beginning to shout that it wasn’t going to fit under the bridge.
“Sadly these pleas were seemingly not heard.”
Mr Cotter said Walker had had time to assess the bridge as he had to wait for an oncoming vehicle to pass before he proceeded.
He added: “The incident caused the entirety of the roof of the bus to be removed and those in vehicles behind saw the top of the bus drop on the floor in front of them.
“It is frightfully lucky that more harm was not done.”
He said one schoolgirl described the bus as “powering through the tunnel”.
He added: “She recalls the children sitting in front of her ducking down as the roof of the bus collapsed in towards her.
“She recalls screaming and shouting and people jumping off the side of the bus to get off.”
Mr Cotter said the three victims to whom the charges related – a 14-year-old boy and two girls, aged 15 and 16 – had undergone surgery to repair nerve damage caused by deep facial cuts which might never heal.
He added that they continue to suffer anxiety, with one of the girls saying she had tried to kill herself.
The prosecutor also listed the injuries of another 15 students, which included cuts, bruises and whiplash, and said a total of 41 children had been hurt.
Neil Fitzgibbon, defending, said Walker was diagnosed with learning difficulties and dyslexia as a child but until this accident had been a “careful and diligent driver”.
He said the defendant had only been given a “partial familiarisation” trip on the route by his supervisors at Stagecoach and should have been given more training because of his learning disabilities.
Mr Fitzgibbon said: “He believed he was on the right route and everything he was doing had been risk-assessed by Stagecoach.”
He added: “Since this accident he has been consumed with remorse, the very idea that he has caused such pain to others by his action is deeply distressing to him.”