Bus goes on midnight trip to Whitton

FACES at an Ipswich bus depot were as red as their vehicles used to be after joyriders took one on a three-mile trip home after a night out on the town.

By Paul Geater

FACES at an Ipswich bus depot were as red as their vehicles used to be after joyriders took one on a three-mile trip home after a night out on the town.

Bosses were left shrugging their shoulders and lamenting: "One of our buses is missing," after the late-night departure.

It was many hours later before the bus was found – ironically beside one of the busiest bus routes in Suffolk!

The single-deck First Group bus was driven away from the Old Cattle Market bus station a few minutes before midnight.

It was taken as the driver was delivering his takings to his office at the end of the evening.

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However his bosses are still investigating the incident to find out how the joyriders were able to take the bus.

"We don't know if the keys were still in the bus, or how it was taken. We are still talking to the driver about that," said a spokesman for First Group, which was previously known as Eastern Counties.

"There is an electronic security device which means buses can only be operated if the driver has it switched on – you can't hotwire a bus," the spokesman said.

The six-year-old bus was driven from the Old Cattle Market and was not found for more than 12 hours, when it was spotted on the Old Norwich Road, a short distance past the Whitton Church Lane turn-off.

Six days a week this is on the flagship Superoute 88 service to Claydon and Stowmarket – but on Sundays buses travel along the A14.

The bus had been taken just before midnight on Saturday – so no buses were due to travel along the Old Norwich Road for about 30 hours after that.

"It was spotted by someone who reported it to First Group. We were able to collect it and bring it back.

"Fortunately the only damage was to the ticket machine, which was taken out, and the plate.

"The ticket machine would not be any use to anyone – there's no money in it and you can't get into it anyway," he said.

"The company is very pleased to get the bus back in one piece and it is back in operation now – a new bus like this costs £90,000 to £100,000."

Exactly how the bus got from the centre of Ipswich to the edge of the Whitton estate is not clear.

However two youths were seen near it at about the time it was taken.

And the journey itself would not have raised too many suspicions – buses operate throughout the night, and Norwich Road is a busy route for them.

It's also unlikely that a bus travelling along a recognised route would have been stopped by police looking for drink-drivers.

"But the company is very concerned because it is likely that the people driving this bus could have been drunk and that would obviously be a danger to other road users," said the First Group spokesman.

"The youths haven't been seen by the police, so we don't know if they were involved – or if it was taken by someone with experience of driving a bus.

"Either way, the whole incident is a major concern," he added.

The incident was not the first time stolen buses have reached the end of the line along Norwich Road.

In October a bus which had been stolen from Colchester and chased by police along the A12 ended up crashed into a lamp post there.

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