THE mother of a four-year-old boy who was left on a school bus has called for primary-school children to be chaperoned when travelling on the vehicles to ensure their safety.
John Robertson, a P1 pupil at Munlochy Primary School, tried to walk home to North Kessock after ending up, unnoticed, at D&E Coaches’ Inverness depot.
The driver was subsequently fired after an investigation by the company, which is introducing a new course on driver awareness in school contracts for driver licence applicants and refresher courses for long-term employees.
The boy’s mother, Nikki, said she never intended for someone to lose their job.
"I just wanted answers – which we still don’t properly have – but I feel the driver’s job wasn’t done correctly and resulted in the endangerment of my son," she said.
She welcomed the measures being implemented by the company but felt they should have been introduced years ago when the school contract started and not just because of a serious incident.
"I also feel all primary school buses should have a chaperone on them to ensure the safety of the pupils," Mrs Robertson said.
"I feel the drivers of these vehicles cannot look after the kids on these buses properly while concentrating on driving.
"I just don’t want this to happen to any other child and I don’t want any other parent to have to go through what we went through.
"We are lucky with the outcome and can celebrate Christmas with our son this year. If this was to happen again, that family might not be so lucky."
A Highland Council spokeswoman said: "We are instructing all contractors that their drivers must check that all pupils have left their vehicles at the end of each school run, and giving advice on what to do if a child is still on board."
Black Isle councillor Jennifer Barclay said she was awaiting answers on what happened and whether any lessons could be learned. She said: "I am very sorry for what the wee boy had to go through and his family. It must have been really frightening."
John was to have been dropped off at his doorstep at Marchburn Court in North Kessock as usual on Friday, December 8 but because of the weather, his parents were not immediately unduly concerned when he failed to show up at his usual time, 3.40pm.
The alarm was raised when the youngster still hadn’t turned up by 4pm.
There then followed a series of calls to family and the bus company, D&E Coaches, who the family claim initially told them that John had been dropped off then that he had not boarded at all.
At 4.30pm they called police and were making a statement when police were able to tell them that their son had just been found.
It appears that he had been left still sitting in the bus when it parked in the D&E Coaches depot in Henderson Drive in Inverness.
Managing to get out of the bus he had eventually been spotted wandering along nearby Stadium Road – in the shadow of the Kessock Bridge and beside the Beauly Firth – by two women.
D&E Coaches yesterday confirmed that a bus driver had been dismissed for "gross misconduct" following a "full internal investigation" into the matter.
The spokesman said: "We are extremely disappointed at the circumstances in which a child was left on one of our minibuses going from Munlochy Primary School to North Kessock last Friday when it was parked in a yard in Inverness.
"A full internal investigation was conducted and the driver concerned was dismissed for gross misconduct.
"Relying on an assurance from another pupil that this child was not on the bus is unacceptable.
"All drivers are expected to check their buses at the end of the journey but this clearly did not occur in this instance.
"As a result, we are introducing a new course on Driver Awareness in School Contracts as part of the accreditation process for a driver licence. We are also introducing refresher courses for long-term employees.
"We wish to express our sincere apologies to the family of the child for the distress caused and we are extremely relieved that the child was safe and sound."