School bus driver avoids assault conviction

An elderly bus driver who assaulted two children on a Cromwell school bus run has avoided a conviction.
    The man, aged in his 70s, was granted a discharge without conviction by Judge David Robinson in the Alexandra District Court on March 10.
    He had earlier admitted two charges of assaulting a child, on two boys aged five and six, last June.
    He cannot be named because an interim suppression order remains in place.
    Judge Robinson will decide whether or not to permanently suppress the man’s name after considering written submissions from counsel and police in the coming weeks.
    About 3.30pm on June 10, the man was the driver of a Go Bus-operated school bus travelling from Cromwell to the Ripponvale and Bannockburn areas, the police summary of facts states.
    He was unfamiliar with the route, and as he attempted to get his bearings, the children became noisy and distracting.
    After stopping to let a pupil off, he left his driver’s seat and confronted the children, telling them to be quiet.
    Instead they laughed at him and continued to chant ‘‘take us to the pool’’.
    The driver then approached the first victim and grabbed his backpack, which he was wearing back-to-front.
    As he pulled the boy towards him, the boy slid out of the backpack on to the floor of the bus.
    The man then grabbed the boy by the neck and shook him while saying, ‘‘Do you think this is funny?’’.
    The boy curled in the foetal position on the floor and cried.
    The driver then confronted the boy sitting next to the first victim, firmly grabbing his knee to keep his own balance.
    The first victim experienced pain and discomfort in his neck for about two days. The second boy was uninjured.
    The man told police he ‘‘lost his marbles’’ because he was unfamiliar with the route and became upset by the children’s antics.
    He resigned from his job and his passenger-class licence was revoked.
    Judge Robinson said the man’s offending was aggravated by the boys’ youth, and the fact he assaulted two children.
    Mitigating factors were his lack of relevant convictions, guilty plea and ‘‘frank admission’’ of wrongdoing.
    He had taken part in a restorative justice conference with one of the boys’ family.
    ‘‘This is an aberration.’’
    He had suffered stress and embarrassment ‘‘beyond the low seriousness of the offence’’, and a conviction would reduce his prospects of finding new employment.
    ‘‘Your reputation is, in my view, something that should not be blighted by this offence.’’
    He granted the discharge without conviction, and ordered the man to pay reparation for emotional harm of $300 to the first child and $150 to the second.