School bus driver who crashed into railway bridge injuring 41 children jailed

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A bus driver who crashed into a railway bridge and ripping the roof off, injuring 41 children, has been jailed for three years.

Three victims suffered serious injuries after Martin Walker was taking 74 pupils aged between 11 and 16 to Henry Beaufort School in Winchester, Hampshire.

Today the 37-year-old pleaded guilty to three charges of causing injury by dangerous driving following the crash, which happened on September 10 last year.

A 16-year-old girl who was badly injured told how she has suffered “dark days”, had run away from home and even tried to take her own life.

The 16-year-old victim suffered a deep cut to her face which required surgery for nerve damage, an injury which has forced her to give up her ambition to be a model.

She said: “As a result of the nerve damage I have a droop in my lip so at the beginning I struggled to keep food and drink in my mouth, which was so embarrassing.

“My plan was to start a modelling career but how could I do that now with a scar all down my face.”

She added that she has been unable to attend school since the crash apart from for exams, and would not be able to take up a place at a fashion college.

She said: “I am a 16-year-old girl who is conscious about her appearance, my future career has been ruined and it’s really difficult for me to deal with scars on my face.

“This was meant to be one of the best years of your life instead of which it was the worst year of my life, I couldn’t go back to school, I couldn’t face everyone looking at me reminding me of that day.”

The second victim, a 15-year-old girl, said: “The noise of the roof being ripped off, the darkness, the flying glass and the sounds of people screaming is something I will never forget.

“For a time I thought I was going to die.”

She also underwent surgery for nerve damage caused by cuts to her face, and added: “It’s horrible to think I may never get all the movement back and I may never be able to smile properly again.

“Every time I look in the mirror it takes me back to the crash.”

The third victim, a 14-year-old boy, described how he suffered a deep cut to his eyebrow which has required surgery for nerve damage.

He said he had been forced to give up playing football because he cannot head the ball and he also now suffers from anxiety.

In a statement read to Winchester Crown Court, he said: “I do feel I have been less confident in socialising since the crash, I spend more time in my room and can be short-tempered.

“The circumstances from that day will stay with me forever, every time I look in the mirror I am reminded.”

Sentencing Walker 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.”

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.”