Bus company Stagecoach has denied allegations its drivers have refused to allow asylum seekers on board a bus service, as supporters of the men say they are being directly discriminated against. Up to 150 mainly young men were placed by the Home Office in the Holiday Inn Bristol Airport, on the A38 in the North Somerset village of Redhill, around five months ago, but say they are struggling to access the already limited public transport in that rural location.
Police have been called at least once in recent weeks to the only stop near the hotel, as the men say they have been denied entry on to the only bus that goes into Bristol from that stop – Stagecoach’s hourly Plymouth-Bristol coach service, called the South West Falcon.
Avon and Somerset police confirmed they had attended the bus stop, at Cowslip Green, on September 10, but said they had concluded no criminal offence was being committed – if people were being denied entry to a public transport bus service, even on the grounds of race, it was a civil matter and not a matter for the police.
Stagecoach said they take the allegations seriously, but have ‘found no evidence’ of what is being alleged. A company spokesperson added that they are investigating complaints about abuse being directed at their drivers on the Falcon service.
The asylum seekers are mainly young men who have arrived in the UK in recent months from war-torn countries including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, and are in the process of asking the UK Government for refugee status. They are being housed by the Home Office at the 80-room Holiday Inn Bristol Airport, and each person shares a room with at least one other. They are given meals, and most receive £8.25 a week, but not all – some receive nothing. None of them are allowed to work.
A North Somerset community arts charity, Trigger, has been working with the hotel and the people staying there, and its co-ordinator is Angie Bual. She said while Trigger got involved to work with the hotel’s guests on an art project, it has ended up doing much more support work to help the guests.
“They have literally been dumped there, and given nothing and receive no support,” she said. “The location is not really walking distance to anywhere else, so they have to get the bus into Bristol. Some use it to go to college, health appointments or to receive legal support – or simply to leave the hotel, which is far away from any amenities,” she added.
Angie said she set up a WhatsApp group for the people staying at the hotel and local residents, so people living in Redhill and neighbouring villages can volunteer to offer lifts into Bristol. Both local residents and hotel guests began reporting issues with the Falcon bus.
“The bus often doesn’t stop at all. I’ve had numerous reports from the men, and from local residents, about the behaviour of the drivers,” she claimed. “One local resident offered to pay for one of the men to go with her on the bus, and the driver refused to take him. The driver took white passengers only and left brown people behind,” she claimed.
The incident the police were called to happened on September 10. “One of the men had tried to get the bus – they had the money they needed, but the bus driver said they couldn’t get on, as he had no change. The man said that he would use his £20 to pay for all four men, but the driver then said: ‘the bus is full’,” she said. “The bus had empty seats. The man refused to leave the bus saying it was his right to travel on the bus. The police were called – the police made the man leave the bus saying it was up to the driver’s discretion as to who he wanted to take or not take,” she added.
A spokesperson for Avon and Somerset police confirmed they had attended the Cowslip Green bus stop on the A38, and had told the man get off the bus. A spokesperson explained that bus drivers have the right to refuse admission to anyone, and that it would be a civil matter for the person being refused to take up with the bus company. Even if the refusal was being made on the grounds of race, the police cannot add a ‘racially-aggravated’ element to the crime – because no crime was technically being committed.
“There can be no excuse for any form of hate or prejudice in Avon and Somerset and we will always take any such offences extremely seriously,” said Supt Dickon Turner, from Avon and Somerset police.
“We were called by a bus driver on September 10 to a payment dispute between them and a number of people trying to board the bus in north Somerset. We were told the individuals were trying to pay in cash and the driver said he was unable to accept the payment. Officers attended to prevent a breach of the peace and no offences were reported at the time or identified.
“A third-party report about the incident was received later that day from a member of the public who raised concerns the incident was racially-motivated, stating the people involved were asylum seekers staying at a nearby hotel.
“A PC and Temporary Chief Inspector called her and explained we had attended, no offences had been identified or reported and permitted entry onto a bus was a civil matter rather than a criminal one.
“The Temporary Chief Inspector raised the matter with partner agencies through a working group, including the local authority, to establish if there were any complaints we were unaware of from those passengers and so partners could take steps to ensure they could access public transport in future.
“In accordance with recording protocols, this has been logged as a hate incident. Unlike a hate crime, a hate incident is one where at least one person believes there was a hate element, but where no criminal offences have been found to have occurred. We recognise this was not done at the time as it should have been but has today been completed. This will mean any officer called to a similar situation in future will be able to access a record of the concerns raised with respect of this matter.
“We would urge anyone who is a victim of a suspected hate crime, or witnesses one, to please contact the police,” he added.
Angie Bual claimed the incidents were continuing and were now taking place at Bristol Bus Station too – when the asylum seekers try to board the Falcon bus back to Cowslip Green last week. “I received a message saying that the driver had sworn at the men waiting and said that he ‘would not take refugees’,” she claimed. “The bus took white passengers only and left the group of seven brown and black men in Bristol Bus Station without transport home,” she claimed.
Stagecoach West told Bristol Live that the Falcon bus service was continuing to stop at Cowslip Green, and would continue to take all passengers from that stop.
A spokesperson said the company had ‘found no evidence’ of the allegations being made about the drivers. “We have a proud and strong commitment to equality and helping people right across our community, and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” she said.
“As part of our help for various community groups, for example, we have been proud to support refugees from Ukraine arriving into the UK with free bus travel to help them to reach their final destinations.
“We take very seriously any allegations that our values are not being upheld. However, to date, we have found no evidence to support these allegations. We can also confirm that we are investigating several allegations regarding abuse directed at our employees,” she added.