Coach driver had two previous speeding convictions, before Christmas Eve crash near Norwich Airport

The driver of a coach full of elderly passengers that crashed near Norwich on Christmas Eve last year had two previous convictions for speeding, a court heard.

Gerald Calver, 52, pleaded guilty to careless driving at Norwich Magistrates' Court yesterday .

The court heard that Calver had been feeling unwell at the time of the crash, which happened on the A140 Cromer Road in Horsham St Faith, near Norwich Airport, but he had carried driving endangering the lives of the 48 holidaymakers on board.

Magistrates heard that Calver already had six points on his driving licence for two speeding offences. For this offence he was handed another six points, which meant that with 12 points on his licence, he was liable to be disqualified.

Magistrates initially told Calver he would be banned from driving for six months.

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But Calver pleaded exceptional hardship as he said he would lose his job without a driving licence, and he also said he had to drive his elderly father.

Calver, from Glebe Way, Mendlesham, near Stowmarket in Suffolk, was fined �375 plus a �15 victim surcharge and also ordered to pay �85 costs but was not given a driving ban.

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The court was told by prosecutor Rachel Balfour that Calver had no memory of the incident which happened at about 3.35pm.

Calver told police that he could not be certain whether he had passed out or not and said it was all a 'worrying blank', she said.

He also said in interview that he had been feeling unwell and had a virus and that he suddenly 'felt hot'. He was taken to hospital after the crash with a temperature and was prescribed antibiotics.

Chairman of the bench, Janet Evans-Jones told Calver: 'We are concerned that you carried on driving whilst feeling unwell', which she said put the passengers' lives at risk.

The single-decker coach, owned by Galloway European Coachlines Ltd, based at Mendlesham, had ended up on its side after veering off the road, mounting an embankment and tipping over.

Nineteen people were taken to hospital, and eight were kept in hospital overnight, of which three suffered broken bones. The passengers had all been on a tour of north Norfolk and were being driven back to the Holiday Inn in Ipswich Road, Norwich, where they were staying.

The court was told that Calver had slowed down before the accident but had been driving at about 60mph, while the coach was restricted to 50mph, but heard that speed was not an issue in the accident.

In mitigation, Tim Ridyard said it was a 'momentary lapse of concentration, drifting off by the driver'.

'Bluntly, my client does not know what happened,' he said.

Afterwards, Calver, who had worked for the coach company for 25 years but is no longer a coach driver, did not wish to comment, but David Cattermole, managing director of Galloway coaches, said: 'The accident represents a very unusual and untypical event for the company which has an outstanding safety record.'

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