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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 14:55 GMT
Schoolboy bus death 'accidental'
Stuart Cunningham-Jones
Stuart was sitting on the top deck of the bus when it crashed

The death of a 12-year-old schoolboy on board a bus taking him home, was an accident because of interference with the steering wheel, an inquest jury has decided.

Stuart Cunningham-Jones died when the bus he was travelling in careered off the road and hit a tree near the village of Ystradowen in the Vale of Glamorgan in December 2002.

During the week-long inquest at Cardiff Coroner's Court, the jury heard that the driver had been almost constantly distracted by other pupils "messing around" - and that in the moments leading up to the crash, a boy had fallen and grabbed hold of the steering wheel.

It later emerged that a fingerprint found on the bus's steering wheel matched that of a 14-year-old pupil on board the bus.

Bus crash at Ystradowen
The bus was carrying 72 children when it crashed

Driver Reginald Davies broke down as he explained that he stopped the bus once because he felt some pupils' behaviour was becoming dangerous.

Reliving the seconds leading up to the crash, he said: "For a split second I did not realise it was an arm on the steering wheel, I just thought something had happened with the bus because I could not turn the steering wheel," he told the hearing.

"He (the pupil) was grabbing the wheel to stop himself falling, I believe."

Pupils - who cannot be named for legal reasons - then recalled hearing the driver shout "we're going to hit the tree".

Mr Davies said that the front wheel had already left the road, and braking hard could have turned the bus over causing more injuries.

The inquest had already heard that a boy, admitted to sounding the horn to say hello to friends and told a police officer he caused the crash because he had been messing around by the driver.

But two days later in a police interview, he said he could not remember exactly what he had said, but that it had not been those words.

Bus driver Reginald Davies
Reginald Davies said he could not have avoided hitting the tree

Asked why he had said it was his fault, he replied: "I was just really, really scared. I just felt it was my fault. I don't know (why)."

He said the bus went over a bump and someone fell into him - he grabbed something but could not remember what.

"I turned around to look at who pushed me and there was a cracking and smashing on the side of the bus," he told the court.

"Then we went off into a ditch and everybody was screaming. I closed my eyes and held on to a pole."

Stuart, a pupil at Cowbridge Comprehensive School sitting at front of the top deck of the service bus, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The inquest also heard how EST bus company director Terry Cooper had complained about unruly behaviour to the school five times over a three-month period.

"On the Richter scale, it's not as bad as others," he said.

"My personal opinion is that an escort should be provided for troublesome routes, but where an escort is sourced from is a problem."

Giving the verdict of accidental death, the foreman of the jury said: "We think it was caused by interference with the steering wheel, causing the bus to leave the road and collide with the tree."

In June last year the CPS decided there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone in connection with the crash.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Wyre Davies
"The Welsh Assembly said they would investigate"



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