A COACH driver who caused the deaths of one of his passengers and a lorry driver while travelling to Evesham over the drink-drive limit has been jailed for six years.

Jasminder Singh Dhesi had been drinking high-strength lager hours before his unroadworthy coach broke down three times on a fog-bound motorway, where it was eventually struck by a heavy goods vehicle.

Birmingham Crown Court heard that Dhesi, 50, failed a roadside breath test after the crash, which claimed the lives of coach passenger Liaquat Ali and haulier William Mapstone.

Mr Mapstone, from Wells in Somerset, died in hospital after the collision on the M5 near Birmingham on March 24 last year, while Mr Ali, from Smethwick, West Midlands, was pronounced dead at the scene.

During Tuesday's sentencing hearing, it emerged that Dhesi was fined for drink-driving 12 years ago after falling asleep and crashing a bus into another vehicle.

Passing sentence, Judge Michael Chambers QC expressed concern as to whether Dhesi, of Nether Hall Avenue, Great Barr, West Midlands, was remorseful for his actions.

Judge Chambers told the father-of-two, who pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, that the fatal accident near Frankley Services on the southbound M5 had been entirely foreseeable and avoidable.

The judge told Dhesi: "Travelling on the motorway as you did clearly caused a substantial risk to other road users and also the passengers on your bus.

"The aggravating features are the degree of risk that you created, having regard to the road conditions and the size of your vehicle, and that two deaths have been caused. There is also an aggravating feature in that you were driving under the influence of alcohol."

The court heard that Dhesi, who was driving a party of more than 30 fruit-packers from Birmingham to Evesham, was initially found to have 46 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, above the legal limit of 35 micrograms. But a test carried out at a police station two hours after the crash gave a reading just below the legal limit and Dhesi was not charged with drink-driving.

The judge, who imposed a four-year driving ban, told the coach driver: "In my judgement it can be safely inferred that two hours previously it would have been over the legal limit for driving. At the root of the present case is a serious loss of judgement - alcohol impairs judgement."

Relatives of Mr Mapstone, 65, and Mr Ali, a married father-of-three, attended court to see Dhesi jailed.

Speaking to the media outside the court, Mr Mapstone's son-in-law, Kai Markall, read a statement on behalf of the family. Mr Markall said: "The family would like to express their thanks to all of the emergency services and those that were involved on the day of this tragedy, who all worked tirelessly to minimise everyone's loss.

"Special thanks go to the family liaison officers who have helped provide the answers to all the painful questions we all wish to know when going through this unimaginable pain.

"William, dad, grandad, Bill Mapstone, leaves behind a loving wife, four beautiful children who in turn provided him with 14 heartbroken grandchildren.

"The loss of life and pain felt by the Mapstone family can never be measured in the sentence passed today.

"The family can only hope that from this tragedy others will learn that your actions and choices in life can seriously affect others."

Giving a message to other drivers, Mr Markall added: "If in trouble, call for help. Better to be late than to never arrive.

"Hopefully today is closure for the family but please feel our pain. Please share our loss. Drive safely, arrive late."

A statement was also read to the media by solicitor Katijah Ahmed on behalf of Mr Ali's wife, Fozia Shaheen, and his brother, Ashfaq Ahmed.

In their statement, Mr Ali's family said: "We have been through a tragic ordeal over the last 11 months.

"Liaquat was a wonderful husband, father and brother who doted over his three young children.

"Whilst we are relieved that justice has been served today. We will never be able to overcome our loss."