TERRIFIED passengers screamed as their coach veered off a Hampshire motorway and up an embankment, a court heard.

The National Express service from London to Poole smashed through bushes before careering back across all three lanes of the M27 west of Southampton, it was said. Jurors were told the cause could have been driver Peter Huggett falling asleep at the wheel.

Passenger Baden Spooner told Southampton Crown Court that there had been around 60 people on board and the coach had been travelling at 50mph when the incident happened on August 28, 2009.

He said: “It started to creep onto the hard shoulder. I said to my wife at the time: ‘It looks like the coach is breaking down’. I realised it wasn’t straightening up on the hard shoulder, it was going to go beyond it.”

He said the coach went along the embankment for about 20 seconds and described how he had gripped hold of the headrest in front as the coach leaned at “quite an angle”.

“There was some screaming from the back and general kerfuffle,” he added.

After the coach had stopped, Mr Spooner went to check on the driver and found him holding the steering wheel.

“I asked the driver what happened and he said he felt hot and went to open the window and the bus veered to the left.”

The court heard that several passengers had asked to get off while the coach stopped on the hard shoulder, but Huggett had continued driving. The court was told howpassengers contacted the police, who met the vehicle when it pulled in at Ringwood, its next scheduled stop.

The coach sustained scratches and dents to its bodywork and a smashed wing mirror. None of the passengers was injured.

Huggett, 55, of Green Road, Poole, denies dangerous driving. His defence will claim the incident could have been caused by him fainting.

Dr William Gibb, consultant neurologist for Southampton University Hospital NHS Trust, told the court there was no evidence that Huggett was sleep-deprived and no evidence that he had exhibited features of drowsiness beforehand, such as lane wandering.

He said Huggett had not displayed a tendency to faint in the past or since. “I would say it’s almost inconceivable that the event was a faint, so it has to be down to another reason.”