Ride to terror for passengers on the 171

Ulster crisis: Latest bombing fails to deflect leaders from efforts to get talks back on track but pessimism is growing
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The Independent Online

A couple who had bought a romantic weekend break in London from hard-up relatives, and a bus driver who was covering for a sick colleague, were among the four people left seriously injured in hospital yesterday.

Ralf Hobart, 38, and his fiancee Denise Hall, 30, from Plainmoor, Torquay, were enjoying a few days in the capital when they were caught up in the blast which ripped apart the double-decker bus in Aldwych.

Mr Hobart, who works for his family's plumbing business, was last night in a critical condition in St Thomas's Hospital, south London, after undergoing extensive surgery for severe facial wounds. Ms Hall was stable with facial lacerations though severely traumatised.

"Her injuries and shock are compounded by the knowledge that her partner is extremely unwell," Dr David Williams, head of accident and emergencies at the hospital, said.

A third unnamed victim of the blast was also described as stable after surgery for a fractured pelvis and skull in the hospital, which was surrounded by armed guards.

The bus driver, Bob Newitt, 49, was in the intensive care unit at University College Hospital, central London, after suffering chest injuries in the blast.

Families of the injured people yesterday spoke of their loved ones and expressed shock at the bombing. John Hall and his wife, Debbie, had won the romantic weekend break to the Waldorf Hotel in Aldwych in a recent competition but had passed it on to his sister Denise.

Mrs Hall said: "It was our prize and we sold it to them. We feel bad about that. We could not afford the holiday and under the circumstances we needed the money more than the holiday."

Mr Hall described the bombers as "scum" and said he was "devastated" by the injuries to his sister and her partner. He added: "It is just sinking in. [Denise is] a lovely happy girl. She's always smiling and laughing. Ralf's a happy-go-lucky bloke."

Mr Hobart's mother, Doris, and her husband, Jag, were woken by police at 3am to tell them about their son's injuries.

"I had seen the news bulletin on the television last night. But I never thought for one moment that Ralf might have been involved," she said. "Why would anyone do this? They had just gone to London for a quiet weekend. How could this happen to them?"

Mrs Hobart, who travelled to London yesterday with her other son, Jan, said she was desperately worried about Ralf, who has serious head injuries and had lost a lot of blood.

Veronica Newitt, who married Bob Newitt, driver of the 171 bus, a year ago, and his two daughters, Vicky and Michelle, spent most of the day at his bedside at University College Hospital. Mr Newitt, from New Cross in south-east London, had been working on a rest day and was covering for a colleague who was on sick leave.

Mrs Newitt yesterday spoke of her distress at learning that "the man I love in my life" had been injured in the blast. "He hadn't been expecting to go to work," she said. "The first thing I knew about it was when Bob's manager came to the door."

Six people were taken to St Thomas's Hospital on Sunday night, but three were released after treatment for shock. A second person was taken to UCH and discharged after treatment.