Saturday, February 24, 2007


TWO terrified teenage girls were forced to take a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride around Harlow and Epping after the driver refused to let them get off.

College students Kandice Firth, of Tilbury Mead, and Michelle Burgess, of Nicholls Field, were driven to North Weald via Epping before an unmarked police car stopped the bus.

Both the police and bus company SM Coaches blamed the incident on a misunderstanding, but the 17-year-olds are angry that the Polish driver, who spoke little English, was not arrested and so far they have received no apology for their ordeal.

The girls got on the busy T15 service at Harlow bus station at 4.45pm on Monday with the intention of getting off at Potter Street.

However, the driver drove to Old Harlow where all passengers except the girls disembarked. "We thought he was just going to take the bus back to the town centre so we stayed on," said Miss Firth.

Instead, he headed across the A414/M11 roundabout into Epping before turning and heading back along country lanes to North Weald.

"Every time we got up to get off he shouted at us to sit down and then just kept driving and that's when it started getting scary," said Miss Burgess.

"I was really crying at this point," added Miss Firth, who said they held up a sign on which they had written the word 'help' to alert other motorists to their plight.

"You always think you know what you would do in a situation like that but you just freeze."

The bus was eventually pulled over by unmarked police cars and the girls claim the driver tried to run away.

They finally got back to Harlow at 7.30pm, driven home in the bus by the same driver.

An SM Coaches spokeswoman confirmed the driver worked for the firm but said no action had been taken against him. "He has been learning new routes and must have got confused and then got overwhelmed by the whole situation," she said.

An Essex Police spokeswoman added: "It was just a language barrier problem and it seems the whole thing was just a misunderstanding."

That explanation did not satisfy the girls, however. "We are not going to let this go," said Miss Firth. "They are not taking us seriously; we felt like we were being held hostage and we were in tears.

"They would take it seriously if we were OAPs. How is he allowed to drive a bus if he can't even speak English?"