Autistic children 'treated like criminals by transport officers,' say parents|
SUTTON, UK: Outraged parents claim their severely autistic children were “treated like criminals” after being fined for failing to carry a bus pass.
The parents claim their vulnerable children were forced to “line up against a brick wall in hot sun” while three Transport for London (TfL) officers demanded their names and addresses.
The four special needs students, aged between 12 and 14, were returning on the 213 bus to Eagle House School in Sutton with teachers when they were stopped after midday on July 1.
A teacher, who did not want to be named, claimed he explained the children did not need to pay, but the officers continued causing the students to become distressed and anxious.
The school has now appealed to TfL against the fines totalling £125, after arguing they were “unfair, unreasonable and excessively punitive."
Eagle House School group's development team officer, Carrie Haslett, said the teachers had accepted responsibility for not ensuring the children had the correct passes, but said organising tickets could be “impractical” and all that was required was “compassion and common sense."
Mother-of-three Jo Bridgewater, 44, of Wallington, said her son, Jack, 14, was left distressed and confused after the incident.
She said: “I heard one of the officers recoiled from one child with a facial expression that was derogatory and discriminatory. I think it’s appalling. My son was so upset he couldn’t sleep. An incident like this can have a huge impact on a child with autism."
She added: “It’s patently obvious a class of children with special needs accompanied by their teachers are not fare evaders. The ticket inspectors seem to be in need of disability awareness training.”
Eagle House School provides special day education facilities for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders and associated social and communication difficulties.
St Helier Independent Councillor, David Theobald, a campaigner for special needs children in the borough, said the incident was an “absolute disgrace."
He said: “There is no room in this borough for untrained, incompetents such as these, strutting around like demigods, picking on defenceless, severely disadvantaged children. They should be immediately relieved of their duties and told to learn of the associated problems of disabled people before they are allowed out of their homes again. The psychological damage these vulnerable children will have endured is incalculable.”
A TfL spokesman said: “We are cancelling all the penalty fares with immediate effect, and apologise for any distress that may have unintentionally been caused in this case. Nevertheless, we must stress that a carer’s responsibility when travelling with vulnerable passengers on public transport includes ensuring all the correct passes are carried."
(Source: Sutton Guardian, July 16, 2009)