Man found '˜drunk' driving primary school bus avoids jail

A primary school bus driver who picked up and dropped off a coach full of children while drunk walked free from court today - to allow him to get counselling for his alcohol addiction.

Stephen McColgan walked free from Paisley Sheriff Court. Picture: TSPL

Stephen McColgan picked the youngsters up from Bridge of Weir Primary School, in the village of Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, while more than three and a half times the limit.

The 52-year-old picked up the children at around 3pm from the school, which is in the village’s Warlock Road, on Friday 9 September this year.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

He was caught by police a short time later in the village’s Prieston Road - after he’d dropped the children off at their stops.

McColgan was arrested and held in police custody for three nights before appearing at Paisley Sheriff Court on Monday 12 September.

He pleaded guilty to having 72 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath - when the limit is just 22mcg - when stopped at the wheel of his Volvo, in breach of Section 5(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

He was fulfilling a school contract granted to coach firm Gibson Direct by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) - the body overseeing public transport and responsible for arranging school bus services in Renfrewshire.

Sentence was deferred for him to be assessed by social workers and he returned to the dock today to learn his fate.

Procurator Fiscal Depute Emma Jeffrey told the court that McColgan was rumbled after speaking to someone who realised he’d been drinking.

The prosecutor explained: “At around 3pm on Friday 9 September this year, the accused was driving a school bus in the Bridge of Weir area.

“At the time he was collecting pupils from Bridge of Weir Primary School.

“Prior to the accused driving off, a member of the public spoke to the accused and was concerned he was smelling of alcohol.

“They brought this to the attention of the head teacher, who contacted the police.”

Officers raced to investigate and caught McColgan a short time later at a junction at the village’s Main Street.

He failed a roadside breath test and was taken in to custody, where it emerged he was more then three-and-a-half times the limit.

Defence solicitor Tony Kelly, appearing on behalf of law firm Callahan, McKeown & Co, said McColgan, of Renfrew, near Glasgow, had lost his job as a bus driver as a result of his conviction.

And he said that he had gone to see his GP about his alcohol addiction as a result of the case.

He asked Sheriff Robert Fife to adjourn the case for three months to see how McColgan is doing with counselling for his problem - and to reserve imposing a sentence until then.

McColgan clutched his hands in a praying motion and looked to the sky as he sat in the public gallery waiting to learn his fate.

And he seemed to get his wish as Sheriff Fife, who could have jailed him for up to 12 moths for the offence, opted to give him a chance to turn his life around.

But, as he deferred sentence until the new year, the sheriff warned him jail was still an option.

He said: “You appear before me as a first offender - had you not been I would have sent you to prison.

“I will defer sentence for three months to allow you to address your alcohol issues.

“If you make good progress I may be able to consider a Community Payback Order which comprises some hours of unpaid work.

“If you don’t then I’m going to impose a sentence of imprisonment.”

Bridge of Weir Primary School has around 450 pupils.

The Head Teacher at the school, Mrs Carol Vallance, said she and her colleagues strive to help the development of their pupils.

In the welcome message for new parents on the school’s website, she adds: “All of our staff hope that you will feel confident in leaving your children with us in the certain knowledge that we aim to help our pupils to become happy, well adjusted members of society.

“We aim to work in partnership with parents and ensure that every child is given the best opportunity to learn and progress.”

A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “Clearly, the safety of our pupils is of utmost importance to us.

“We have already spoken to our school transport contractors to establish the full circumstances surrounding this incident.”

Gibson Direct did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the incident.