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Press release

Monday 18 November 2013


Embargo date: 06:00 Monday 18 November 2013-11-14

Now is the time…

Around midnight on Monday 18 November 1993, 12 school children lost their lives on the M40 when the minibus they were travelling in crashed into the back of a motorway maintenance vehicle on the hard shoulder. The teacher driving the bus was also killed. The nation was shocked.  How could this have happened and what could be done to ensure it never happened again?

But in twenty years, teachers and other volunteers still drive school owned minibuses without ever having to sit a minibus driving test. They can do this because the school or organisation will operate buses with up to 16 passenger seats using a Permit 19 license that is often issued by a local authority and not the DVLA. These drivers, however well intentioned they are, will not be required to have a medical to ensure they are fit to drive.  Commercial bus drivers do.  Buses operated by schools are not subject to the same safety checks as a commercial company. Every 4-6 weeks the regulations demand that transport companies safety check their fleet. This is to keep you and me safe.  This two-tier system means, children are put at risk on a daily basis either by their school, by a local authority or a child organisation such as The Scouts.  “No regulating body monitors any of these Permit 19 minibus operations once they are up and running and that is no longer acceptable,” said BUSK’s Director Pat Harris.

Parents that lost their children in the M40 crash are now working alongside BUSK in a joint campaign. The campaign will be called ‘Now is the time…’ and will call for measures to ensure that voluntary operated buses are regulated properly and for drivers to be licensed by the DVLA with a requirement to be medically fit with follow up medical checks every five years and eye tests every two years. Around 140,000 buses are driven in the UK on a voluntary basis, some transporting the most vulnerable sectors to include children with special needs, wheelchair users and young people.  The UK refused more than twenty years ago to become regulated when at that time all other EU member states agreed that it was necessary on grounds of passenger safety. “The UK government could have prevented the M40 crash by ending this two-tier system if it has signed the agreement but instead it failed to put children’s safety first. Its continued failure to protect passengers is a disgrace and is no longer acceptable,” commented Pat Harris, “now is the time to act”. Seeking a Judicial Review in this matter has not been ruled out.


For more information contact Pat Harris 01633 274944 or 07751 816367


Note to Editors

A statement from parents is attached at the end of these notes.

The children who died in this crash were:

  • Charlotte Bligh, 13
  • Ruth Clark, 12
  • Fiona Cook, 12
  • Claire Fitzgerald, 13
  • Louise Gunn, 12
  • James Hickman, 12
  • Adele Howell, 12
  • Anna Mansell, 13
  • Nicola Misiolek, 12
  • Richard Pagett, 12
  • Charlene O'Dowd, 12 (died later in Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham)
  • Katie Murray, 12 (died the following day in South Warwickshire Hospital)

    Holly Caldwell and Bethan O'Doherty survived. 

The teacher was called Eleanor Fry – she had worked all day and then drove and supervised pupils all evening before the return journey from London to Hagley School.  She fell asleep and crashed the bus into a motorway maintenance vehicle on the hard shoulder of the M40. 

These are news quotes from that time:

A second minibus carrying another group of pupils from Hagley High School who had also attended the London concert passed the crash scene and made it home safely to Worcestershire. Its driver, teacher Bernard Tedd, later told how he had a "feeling of dread" that the crashed vehicle on the hard shoulder was the other minibus, but had decided to continue driving. A Warwickshire Fire Brigade public relations officer said Tedd had "saved those children from witnessing the worst accident any of us has ever seen.


First on the scene was Patrick Molloy, a motorist from Liverpool. He said he tried to get someone out of the passenger seat but the door was jammed, so he ran to open the rear doors. 'I realised there were loads of people all on top of each other,' he said. 'I jumped into the van and started pulling them out. Everyone was unconscious. While I was doing this, another man started helping me and we noticed that there were flames spreading. Within seconds they were getting bigger. 'We managed to get about seven people out but this other man said 'Get out, the van is going to blow'. The tyres were exploding and the petrol tank was fizzling. There was thick black smoke everywhere. We did the best we could.'

Statement from The Fitzgerald Family and supported by others of the families of children killed in the Hagley RC High School M40 Crash on 18 November 1993.

We would have hoped that following the crash that killed Claire, eleven of her friends and their teacher – a crash which had such devastating consequences for so many families and friends, that great strides to protect today’s young people when they travel on minibuses operated by their school would have come about as a matter of course. 

On the 20th anniversary of the death of our children, we simply ask, what lessons have been learned from the 20 years we have had without our children? Not nearly enough.  Certainly, nothing is in place to prevent such a crash from happening again.

One major concern is that schools, charities and children’s organisations use volunteer drivers to carry large numbers of children in buses with up to 16 passenger seats without any checks by an official registering and/or testing organisation. Something called “Permit 19” enables this.

Safeguards for passenger safety are often sadly lacking. Ad hoc knowledge and personal conscience of the driver is of massive concern. It’s a very big responsibility they carry and they are often not driving professionals. 

For too long, we have stood back quietly, hoping that whilst we continue to grieve, decision makers will do the right thing. Twenty years is long enough to give those decision makers time to get it right.

Questions, and lots of them need to be brought into the public arena. Parents of today deserve to know the truth… just who is driving their child and under what regime they are being driven?

Parents need to clearly understand the two-tier system of minibus operation that puts their children at risk. Is it is only luck that a repeat of the M40 crash has not happened yet? We think so. Are we led by grief and perhaps not able to think clearly? No, not at all.  We are very clear about what needs to be done. First of all, what do parents need to be aware of?

They need to understand why we are speaking out – why we are so concerned so we have listed just some of those concerns…

  • Commercial companies are licensed to operate minibuses - a school using a Permit 19 is not.
  • Commercially operated minibuses are subject to safety checks every 4 to 8 weeks - a school operating under a Permit 19 is not required to have these checks.
  • A commercial company would be committing an offence if its minibus pulled a trailer because it would be blocking the rear emergency doors, deemed in law as an unacceptable safety breach - a school using a Permit 19  can pull a trailer and block the emergency doors, seriously hampering emergency evacuation.
  • A commercial company must employ a transport manager and employs PCV drivers who also are legally obligated to have undertaken Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) training to ensure they drive to the highest safety standards - a school using Permit 19 can “get away with” using a volunteer driver (e.g. a teacher).









  • A commercial company will be required to have a vehicle defect reporting system and drivers are required in law to carry out a walk around check of the minibus before it is taken out onto the public highway - a school using Permit 19 has none of these requirements.
  • PCV drivers are legally required to undergo regular health checks to ensure they are still fit to drive, but there is no such requirement for volunteer drivers.
  • There are restrictions on the number of hours a PCV driver can work but there are no restrictions for volunteer drivers.


All minibus transport should be driven by a PCV driver who will also have been legally required to be CPC trained with on-going updates and who will be required to carry out all of the routine safety checks as a commercial operator does before picking up passengers. Why is it that children are not respected enough to be provided with the same safeguards as the travelling public on a commercial passenger transport vehicle?


Parents UK-wide need to hear and absorb the truth. It is not just schools that transport children in this way.  Many local authorities use charities and volunteers to drive children to and from school each day. Some are the most vulnerable children who have special needs or are required to travel in their wheelchairs are amongst them. Local authorities use volunteers because it is cheaper, and not because it is safer. This means that permit 19 holders, are not regulated by the Traffic Commissioner, a requirement a commercial operator would be subject to as a means to monitor safety and legal compliance.


Around 140,000 buses are operated across the UK using Permit 19. This is a national disgrace. Do parents know?  No. How would they unless it has not been brought to their attention. How is it, that after twenty years a school or local authority can still use drivers to transport children who are not required to be trained to the same high standard as a PCV driver or meet the European CPC standards designed to improve passenger safety?


Every school and every local authority has a legal duty of care for children for whom they make transport arrangements. On what basis are they making these arrangements - how are they fulfilling their legal duty of care for pupils? Every parent has a right to be satisfied with the answers to these questions we raise. Whilst we understand from BUSK and others that some schools and/or other “non-commercial” Permit 19 holders do operate safely, usually because the school concerned employs a Transport Manager who knows what s/he is doing, we are also aware that a great many do not have the same apparent regard for safety over cost or the basic safety knowledge to undertake that role.


Today, 18 November, we yet again, painfully relive that night in 1993 as we do every year.  It is one of the saddest times for us.  But in particular we have been saddened in the extreme, by the failure to learn those lessons that blatantly have not been learned.  Most of all, though, we are angry that this could so easily happen again because there is no desire to put child safety first, over and above budget.  


Surely as a lasting memorial to Claire and her friends, those wonderful, talented children whose lives were ended much too early because they were failed by the system, now is the time to show them and their families the respect they deserve but have not yet been afforded. Now is the time."