Gosport dad’s fury as bus drivers ignore his two disabled children

Carers Victoria Wills and Martina Urry with Braden McDowell, eight, and his brother Travis, 12. Picture: Habibur Rahman (161521-35)
Carers Victoria Wills and Martina Urry with Braden McDowell, eight, and his brother Travis, 12. Picture: Habibur Rahman (161521-35)
Michelle Houghton and her daughter Clara, 13,enjoy the lights Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (171676-1)

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A PAIR of disabled children were left stranded miles from their home after seven bus drivers refused to let them on board.

Brothers Travis, 12, and eight-year-old Braydon McDowell were stuck with their two carers after a day shopping in Commercial Road, Portsmouth.

I just wanted to shout at somebody I was so angry.

Robert Bennett, 52

The boys, who have cerebral palsy, had travelled over from their Gosport home and had hoped to get a bus back from the shopping precinct to The Hard.

But, despite having no problem getting from The Hard to the city centre, bus drivers refused to let the youngsters travel together on their way home, citing ‘health and safety’ reasons.

The incident has outraged the boys’ father, Robert McDowell, who said it could have threatened the lives of his children – who both need medication to keep their epilepsy under control.

Now. MPs have demanded answers from travel operator First Bus,with disability campaigners branding the situation unacceptable.

Mr McDowell, 52, of San Diego Road, said: ‘The boys should be able to go out together and not feel victimised.

‘It was not right to leave them stranded.

‘I was absolutely furious. They were refused seven times – seven times. That’s not on. I just wanted to shout at somebody I was so angry.’

He added: ‘This could have been life-threatening. They were late for their medication and this could have brought on a seizure – they could have gone into epileptic shock and needed to be hospitalised or needed their rescue meds.’

First Bus claims it can only safely take one wheelchair user in a designated space – which is stipulated by law.

But Mr McDowell says the firm regularly allows the boys to travel together when using the Eclipse service, in Gosport.

‘This is red tape bureaucracy gone mad,’ he said. ‘They’ve never, ever had a problem this side of the water in Gosport. They both use buses here together all of the time.’

A spokeswoman for national campaign group Disability Rights UK was appalled by the children’s treatment and urged the bus firm to review its disability access policies.

She said: ‘Freedom to travel and to socialise with friends is an absolute linchpin of daily life. It’s so important.

‘Disabled people far too often find “health and safety” used as an excuse to say that they can’t do things.

‘But it’s very difficult to understand why this case would be a health and safety reason.’

Disabilities minister Penny Mordaunt was also saddened by the incident.

The Portsmouth North MP said: ‘Disabled people should have equal access and equal experience of using public and private transport

‘The Department for Transport is currently looking at measures to ensure bus drivers know what their obligations are, and to ensure that taxi drivers too accept wheelchair users and do not charge them extra as, outrageously, often happens.’

While Flick Drummond, Portsmouth South’s MP, has also demanded answers.

‘This was a very upsetting experience for the boys and their parents,’ she said.

‘I have contacted First Bus to ask them to look into what happened, and they have assured me they will.’

Dervla McKay, general manager of First, said the firm’s buses were ‘fully compliant’ with all necessary accessibility regulations, which require buses to have one dedicated wheelchair space.

She added additional wheelchairs can be carried if they can be folded up and stored safely in the luggage area.

She said: ‘As we have no record of any complaint, we encourage Mr Bennett to get in touch with us as soon as possible so we can provide a full response.

‘We recognise how important it is that bus services are accessible for all customers.

‘The regulations also make clear that wheelchair users who need to travel seated in a wheelchair “must only be carried in a wheelchair space”.

‘Unfortunately, we cannot offer a second wheelchair user an acceptable level of protection outside the wheelchair space.’