A BUS driver did not know he was on the wrong route when a double decker full of schoolchildren crashed into a railway bridge, despite pupils warning cries.

Forty-one children were injured, three of which suffered life-changing injuries after the roof of the bus was torn off.

Martin Robert Walker, 37, was jailed for three years at Winchester Crown Court on Friday after he pleaded guilty to three counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

Seventy-two pupils were on board the bus en route to Henry Beaufort secondary school when the crash occurred in Wellhouse Lane, Headbourne Worthy, on September 10, last year.


Daily Echo: Martin Robert Walker at Basingstoke Magistrates' Court. Image: Solent News & Photo Agency

Prosecuting, Nicholas Cotter said that Walker, who suffers from special educational needs, was "an experienced driver of double decker buses" but had not driven the route before.

He continued: “He was made aware through a familiarisation trip of the route he was required to take and why.

"The day of the collision was the first occasion that this defendant had ridden the school route."

The court was told that Walker, of Burke Drive, Southampton, was only partially shown the route and was not driving during the training.

Mitigating, Neil Fitzgibbon said that his client suffers from "poor planning, confusion of left and right, and needs constantly reminded of basic elements of his job".

He continued: "The defendant was unaware he missed his turning as a consequence believing he was on the correct route... he wrongly assumed that he would fit under the bridge."

Moments before the crash Walker stopped to let another driver through but “seemingly put no heed to height restrictions or signage on the route towards the bridge”. The bus was 13ft and 11ins but the bridge was only 12ft high.

Despite children warning the driver he continued through the tunnel and the top of the bus was ripped off.

A list of the children’s injuries was read out, including the three who suffered the most serious injuries, who have been left with permanent scaring and nerve damage.

In a victim impact statement, one the children said: "I was due to go to school on the school bus, instead of the usual boring bus trip it turned out to be something that changed my life forever. The sounds of people screaming is something I will never forget.

"I thought I was going to die."

Others described how children screaming and were climbing down the bus to escape.

In sentencing, Judge Angela Morris, Recorder of Winchester, said: “One might have thought that a bus driver with your experience driving an unfamiliar route for the first time with a bus at close to full capacity would have exercised extra care to ensure the safety of your passengers. Sadly, you did not, and it is only by sheer good fortune no one was killed or lost limbs.”

Walker was banned from driving for three years with an extension period of 18 months. He must also take an extended retest.

DC Cate Paling, of the Serious Collision Investigation Unit, said: “Mr Walker’s driving clearly fell far below that of a competent and careful driver, and it was obvious to all the students on the bus that the vehicle would not fit below the bridge.

“This was a serious misjudgment on Walker’s part, and a moment of carelessness had drastic consequences.

“Three young people now have to live with life-changing facial injuries. It’s lucky that no one was killed, but this just goes to show how dangerous not paying full attention when driving can be.

“We welcome the sentence handed out by the Crown Court today and want to remind anyone that drives in this manner and endangers the lives of others that you will be prosecuted.”