A FORMER soldier who drunkenly drove a double decker bus three miles home after a night out has avoided jail.

Stephen McCartan, 52, caused more than £6,000 damage during the hair-raising 2am joyride.

A court heard McCartan staggered into Poole bus station after losing his drinking companion.

He opened the doors of a blue and red Morebus double decker and made his way to the top deck where he fell asleep on a seat.

Read more: Dorset woman's rogue trade operation with dodgy Stone Island and Nike brands

When the former Royal Engineer woke up an hour later he went down to the driver's seat and managed to start up the vehicle.

McCartan then reversed the 12 tonne bus out of the station, crashing into railings and a parked Fiat Panda car in the process.

He then drove towards his home at Hamworthy, via the Twin Sails Bridge, before abandoning the bus with its engine still running.

Bournemouth Echo:

McCartan, a Northern Ireland veteran, had no memory of the incident but accepted it was him who took the bus without consent.

The court heard the damage to the bus and railings totalled £4,646 and the Fiat was written off with the insurance claim stating it's value as £1,640.

Shami Duggal, prosecuting, told magistrates in Poole that the bizarre incident happened during the early hours of December 27 last year.

Read more: 'Kill her, gas her and burn her': Harasser's vile threats to his ex-girlfriend

She said: "The defendant was seen to stagger into Poole bus station on CCTV at 1am in the morning.

"He was seen to open the doors of the bus. He climbed to the top deck and went to sleep for over an hour and was then seen to sit in the driver seat and tried to get the bus started.

"Eventually he was able to reverse the bus, hitting a railing, causing damage to the railing, then drove off towards Hamworthy.

"He drove to Egmont Road and left the bus, with the engine still running, next to the play park at Turlin Moor.

"The bus was damaged as a result of the collision as was another parked vehicle."

She added it could have been much worse than it actually was.

Ewa Russell, defending, said McCartan had taken Xanax, a fast-acting tranquiliser, to help with his anxiety at 10pm on he night in question.

She said: "It is a rather bizarre thing to do and something you can't get away with. Mr McCartan is unable to offer any reasonable explanation, he hardly recalls the incident but did recognise himself in the images and accepts it was him."

The court heart McCartan has struggled with anxiety and depression and had several traumas in his life. His father left when he was a child and his mother died when he was 17.

He served in the Royal Engineers in Northern Ireland from 1992 to 1995 but would not talk about his experiences. He has been diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression.

A probation officer said he probably has PTSD, could not really carry out unpaid work because of his health and 'most unusually' recommended the court consider a lengthy conditional discharge.

The court heard McCartan was 'extremely remorseful and upset' about what happened.

He pleaded guilty to taking a vehicle without the consent of the owner.

Magistrates decided to defer sentencing to give McCartan six months to show he can turn his life around otherwise he could go to prison for the offence.

He was also told to save £250 towards paying compensation.