School bus driver jailed for crashing double-decker carrying 74 pupils into Hampshire railway bridge

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A school bus driver has been jailed for three years for crashing a double-decker into a railway bridge, injuring 41 children, three of them seriously.

Martin Walker pleaded guilty to three charges of causing injury by dangerous driving in connection with the crash on 10 September last year.

He had been driving 74 pupils aged between 11 and 16 to Henry Beaufort School in Winchester, Hampshire, when he hit the bridge, ripping the roof of the bus off.

Judge Angela Morris sentenced 37-year-old Walker at Winchester Crown Court on Friday.

She 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."

Prosecutor Nicholas Cotter told the court that Walker, who was a Stagecoach employee, had been driving the route for the first time when he had taken a wrong turn without realising.

He then drove 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."

He added that a number of students had noticed they were going the wrong way and "voiced their concerns", and some of them began to shout that the bus 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, Mr Cotter told the court.

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."

Mr Cotter said one schoolgirl described the bus as "powering through the tunnel" and recalled children ducking down as the roof of the bus collapsed in.

"She recalls screaming and shouting and people jumping off the side of the bus to get off."

Three of the victims to which the charges relate - 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 may never fully heal.

He said all three had continued to suffer from anxiety as a result.

Defence lawyer Neil Fitzgibbon said Walker had learning difficulties and dyslexia but had been a "careful and diligent driver" until this crash.

He said Walker 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 added that since the incident Walker had been "consumed with remorse" and the thought of causing pain to others "is deeply distressing to him".

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