Safety First: Mother's anger fuels action

SINCE her daughter was killed in a horrific minibus accident in December 1991, Wendy McGuinness has become a leading campaigner for better safety measures.

She has never been able to bring herself to unpack her daughter's rucksack. It was left at her front door after Rachel, aged 15, was flung from the back of a minibus into oncoming traffic on her way home from a weekend with the army cadets.

Rachel was returning to London from a weekend in Folkestone in a crew-seated minibus - one with side- facing bench seats - without seat belts when the accident happened on a Sunday afternoon. The driver, who had had only a few hours' sleep since the previous Friday, lost control on the M20 in Kent. The bus hit the central reservation and its back doors flew open, catapulting the occupants on to the road, leaving four dead and eight injured. The driver later received an pounds 800 fine and a four-year ban for driving without due care and attention.

Since then, Wendy has devoted much of her time to campaigning for such buses to be abolished, and is now the London organiser of the campaign group Belt Up School Kids. The passing of two-and-a-half years has not even begun to ease her grief.

'This is my way of dealing with it, to try and prevent it happening to other people,' she says. 'I am channelling my anger. When the law is changed, I don't know what I am going to do. I am going to have to start campaigning on something else. I have to do something to keep my mind occupied.'

She urges parents to be vigilant and to check on safety measures before they allow their children to travel in a coach or a minibus. An adult said to her recently that she would not be able to bring herself to carry a crying child off a bus rather than allow him or her to go on a trip without a seatbelt.

'Personally, I would have no trouble with that at all,' Wendy says.

Seat belts are to be fitted in all minibuses and coaches used by Calderdale Council, West Yorkshire. The council already has belts in most of the 50 mini buses it owns, but the new policy will also cover hired vehicles.

Belt Up School Kids can be contacted via Pat Harris on (0291) 672488.

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