FURIOUS parents have claimed their children’s lives were put at risk when a bus driver stopped abruptly on a busy main road – to pray.
Some 50 children, parents and teachers from Meon Junior School in Southsea were returning home from a school trip to London when the incident happened.
The Muslim coach driver stopped his vehicle in the middle of the Eastern Road, just before rush-hour, for 10 minutes while he conducted his daily prayer.
The man’s actions have since been condemned by parents and Muslims in the city and have prompted an investigation by Cosham-based coach company Vision Travel.
Mum Claire Powell, 35, was furious. Her nine-year-old daughter Heidi was one of those on the coach at the time.
Claire, of Cedar Grove, Copnor, said: ‘I was absolutely livid when I heard.
All it would have taken was for a big lorry to come flying round the corner and hit them – that would have been very serious, there could have been fatalitiesAdele Richards
‘He just stops on a busy road without any warning, gets out, washes his feet, pulls out a mat and starts to pray.
‘There were people swerving to avoid the coach and beeping. He was putting children’s lives at risk.
‘At the end of the day he has a duty of care to fulfil. This isn’t about his religion – he simply shouldn’t have done it.’
Worried mum Adele Richards feared for the safety of her daughter Ruby, nine.
The 41-year-old, of Anchorage Park, said: ‘All it would have taken was for a big lorry to come flying round the corner and hit them – that would have been very serious, there could have been fatalities. It would have been horrendous.’
Mum Dawn Barker, 30, of Stride Avenue, Copnor, added: ‘He could have waited literally two minutes to get to the school. You shouldn’t go and endanger anybody’s lives like this.’
And Holly Sharpe, 31, of Milton said she would not let her children go on future school trips without her being with them every step of the way.
Muslims’ daily prayer is known as the Salat and is performed five times through the day.
But city councillor and practising Muslim Cllr Yahiya Chowdhury was shocked by the driver’s actions.
He explained the time of daily prayer was flexible for individuals unable to join in communal services at a mosque.
Cllr Chowdhury added: ‘It is sad what he has done. If he is doing a job like that then he should care for the children first and make sure the children are safe before he goes to pray.
‘He should not put the children at risk to pray. That is wrong.’
Sumel Chowdhury, a Muslim community activist, added there was nothing wrong with praying later in the day if people were unable to do it at the correct time.
Speaking about the driver’s actions, he said: ‘It’s not acceptable. I think it’s completely wrong. He should have parked the vehicle in a safer place to pray. Prayers are flexible, if you miss one you can do it one or two hours later.’
Luke Hanna is the headteacher of Meon Junior and was concerned by the driver’s actions.
He added: ‘We have raised our concerns with the coach operator hired for this visit and they’ve apologised and assured us that this wouldn’t happen again.’
A spokeswoman for Vision Travel apologised for the incident.
She said: ‘I would like to make it clear there were parents and teachers on board, so the children were not left alone at any point.
‘It was a one-off incident and since we were made aware of the incident we apologised straight away to the school and parents. The driver was given a warning, which is normal procedure, and we are looking into the matter.’