Crash death warning 'ignored'

7th May 2004 at 01:00
Parents fight for adult supervisors on buses after jury recommendation as MPs debate school transport changes

A coroner court's call for adult supervisors on school buses after the death of a 12-year-old boy in a collision has been ignored by the education authority involved, according to a safety charity.

Stuart Cunningham-Jones died when the double-decker in which he was returning from Cowbridge comprehensive, Vale of Glamorgan, crashed in December 2002.

A jury at Cardiff coroner's court later returned a verdict of accidental death. The Welsh Assembly's education committee heard last week that the main cause of Stuart's death was misbehaviour by other pupils on the bus.

In a letter to the coroner, the jury suggested there should be adult supervisors on buses and that drivers should not have to be responsible for pupils' behaviour while driving.

Coroner Lawrence Addicott wrote to the council recommending it address the problem of drivers being distracted while trying to maintain discipline, because this was "not compatible with safety". He also included the jury's suggestions in the letter.

But the Labour-run authority has now put 10 per cent of school bus contracts up for tender, stating drivers will be responsible for the safety of pupils. The new contracts will begin in September.

Stuart's father, David Cunningham-Jones, 44, said: "After the accident the uproar in the village blew me and my wife Jo away. What the council has done is pretty insensitive in light of the public reaction. There are a lot of children in the village who will not go on a bus now."

Pat Harris, the corporate director of school transport charity, Belt Up School Kids (Busk), said: "I'm staggered at what Vale of Glamorgan is doing. What it is saying is that one boy died, one driver is so devastated he cannot work, one family is devastated and it does not really matter.

"It is going to ignore the recommendations and what the jury said."

The council set up a committee to look at school transport safety after the coroner's letter. Members include Stuart's parents, teachers, governors, bus operators and a Welsh Assembly official. John Maitland Evans, the council's chief executive, said: "Issues raised by Busk relate to a small percentage of school bus contracts which required renewal for the next school year as a matter of urgency.

"The council is confident that it is fully complying with its commitments following this tragic accident."

Mr and Mrs Cunningham-Jones have formed Stuart's Campaign to back the jury's recommended safety measures.

Dr Chris Howard, a neighbour and head of Lewis school, Pengam, chairs the campaign. His daughter Bethan, 13, was on the bus when it crashed.

Dr Howard said: "Children are still travelling on overcrowded buses and without escorts. We are disappointed to learn the council has sent out these tenders. This means there will be no change for a year or two with these contracts, and that is unacceptable."

Dr Howard was invited to give evidence to the House of Common's education and skills select committee this week on the school transport Bill. He said it did not address behaviour, however.

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