There is a standing hoary old Londoner’s joke about a skeleton being found on a Circle line train and being handed in at the Lost Property Office in Baker Street. The “joke” being that he had a heart attack and was just left circling London. This of course never happened and there are strict security checks on the Underground with drivers physically walking through trains at end of shifts and each time they detrain or go into sidings. There is also the “joke” about the young kid telling his mum that he doesn’t want to go upstairs on the Double Decker bus as its dangerous because there is no driver there.
Well today, these old chestnuts have unfortunately been echoed by a disturbing incident on a London Bus, details of which have been revealed at a Coroner’s inquest into the death of a young Polish drug user in London. Bus staff are facing disciplinary action after a dead passenger was driven around London because the driver failed to spot his body. Pawel Modzelewski died on the night bus and remained there unnoticed until a member of the public raised the alarm more than six hours later, an inquest was told. The 25-year-old had got on the No. 36 bus after midnight in Queen’s Park and CCTV footage shows him slumped over his seat 12 minutes later.
The driver of the bus noticed Mr Modzelewski on the top deck but “forgot” about him when he went home for the night, Southwark coroner’s court heard. Paul Bailey, accident prevention manager for London Central Bus Company, told the hearing the driver thought Mr Modzelewski was asleep and tried to rouse him at New Cross Gate bus garage. He said: “There was no response. He drove the bus into the garage to be refuelled and cleaned by contractors. He forgot to tell anyone about the man. The cleaners didn’t clean the bus and on finishing his duty, the driver went home.”
The dead man, originally from Poland, was discovered by a commuter on the bus the next morning. In a statement Morlaye Keppy-Camara said: “I got on the 171 bus and went upstairs. I walked towards the back of the bus. As I did so I passed a white male. He was slumped forwards in his seat and not moving.” Mr Keppy-Camara noticed vomit on Mr Modzelewski’s clothes and spoke to the driver. Police discovered an empty syringe in Mr Modzelewski’s right hand and a small wrap of what appeared to be heroin.
Recording a narrative verdict, coroner Dr Andrew Harris said the cause of death was an overdose of drink and drugs, but added there were “missed opportunities” to save Mr Modzelewski’s life. Mr Modzelewski’s uncle Eligiusz, who is also living in the UK, said: “If my nephew had had help earlier, maybe things would have been different.”
How awful this is for his family, especially as it was stated there were missed opportunities to possibly save his life. It is awful to think somebody could be taken ill and just ignored. And regardless of how busy a bus is surely somebody should check nothing has been left on a bus when it comes to the end of its journey, be it a person, a bag or even a bomb! However at the end of the route, the drivers should always check the bus for any remaining passengers before starting the return journey on the route, or going to the depot. This is very much standard practice, and is done for all trains and tubes too.
The drivers job on a night bus is however difficult as they carry revellers coming home from pubs and clubs who are often worse for wear and have challenging behaviour. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect a driver to deal with all the background issues as well as drive at a very demanding time when the behaviour of pedestrians and other road users is challenging. Maybe there is a case for increasing Night Bus fares in London and having a security guard on each bus to deal with the background issues and anti-social behaviour and provide reassurance to passengers? I know many passengers on night buses who currently feel nervous using them would feel far more secure if there was a security guard on board.