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A HAMPSHIRE bus driver who put the lives of his passengers at risk by getting behind the wheel after drinking has walked away from court with a ban and a fine.

Peter Coe crashed his single-decker bus into a verge as he was called back to the depot by bosses who had been warned his driving was "out of control".

The 29-seater vehicle's front bumper was completely ripped off as a result of the collision although no one was injured.

Yesterday, Coe of Barry Road, Southampton, pleaded guilty to driving a bus while over the drink drive limit at Fareham Magistrates' Court.

The court heard the 57-year-old was caught while driving the Brijan Tours number 7 bus from Southampton to Bishop's Waltham on January 14.

Prosecutor Nic Allerton said the bus operator immediately ordered Coe back to the depot after receiving a report of him driving erratically through Curdridge.

"The owner thought he could smell alcohol on his breath and the police were summoned," said Mr Allerton.

"As a result Mr Coe was given a breathalyser that was positive."

Coe was found to be over the legal drink drive limit recording 62 micrograms in 100 millilitres of breath compared with a legal maximum of 35.

Representing Coe, Bill Charlton told the court his client had been suffering from a great deal of stress recently through his job and the loss of his father, and from time to time he did have a drink.

Magistrates stopped short of jailing Coe, instead banning him from driving for 16 months and fining him £115 plus £70 costs.

Magistrate Anne Pearson said: "I have to say we were very disturbed to hear it had happened when you were driving a bus with possibly many passengers on."

Coe, who was instantly dismissed from his job of six months, expressed his regret to the court.

He said: "I am totally sorry for what I have done."

Outside court bosses at Brijian Tours said they were surprised at the sentence considering that Coe was driving a bus with passengers on.

Managing director Brian Botley said: "We are amazed he got off so lightly. Often this sort of crime sees drivers sent to prison and as a company we were expecting more than this.

"This is the first time we have had any instance of a driver operating his vehicle while unfit through drink."