Illegal aliens on board
A COACH full of school trippers were embroiled in dramatic scenes in France after police found three illegal immigrants cowering in the scorching chassis of their bus. The Year 11 pupils, from Abbs Cross School and Arts College, in Abbs Cross Lane, Hornch
A COACH full of school trippers were embroiled in dramatic scenes in France after police found three illegal immigrants cowering in the scorching chassis of their bus.
The Year 11 pupils, from Abbs Cross School and Arts College, in Abbs Cross Lane, Hornchurch, were returning from a day visit to the Somme battlefields and Vimy Ridge, in northern France, when the stowaways were found trying to sneak into the UK.
French border police became suspicious after sniffer dogs picked up human scent under the coach just as the pupils and teachers were set to enter the Channel Tunnel near Calais, on Friday, March 19.
The 56 GCSE history students, two teachers and two teaching assistants waited for three hours while police interviewed the two unsuspecting coach drivers, before arresting the hideaways.
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One mum, who asked not to be named, said: "At first the kids were excited by the drama, but they soon became fed up after they were forced to stay in the coach for hours."
Amazingly, the three stowaways - all men in their mid-twenties thought to be from war-torn Sudan - were perched precariously on the hot gearbox hidden at the back of the bus.
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A spokesman for the Brentwood-based Brentwood Coaches, which has been making the journey for Abbs Cross for around ten years, said: "I'd not want to ride where they were riding. I'm surprised they came out alive because of the heat, if they had gone much further they would have been cooked."
It is thought the desperate men had clambered beneath the bus while the school group visited battlefields and cemeteries.
"All the luggage lockers would have been locked as a matter of course because the drivers know there is a problem with illegal immigrants," the spokesman added.
"Police asked for the itinerary of the day and were satisfied the drivers had absolutely no involvement, and after a lot of French bureaucracy they were released."
The party was due back at 10pm on Friday night - having left before 5am that morning - but pupils and anxious parents were not reunited until 2am the following day.
"We were in contact with our kids so we knew what was going on, but it was a long day and everyone wanted to get home," said the mum.
"The teachers were brilliant and made sure all the kids were alright, but we still were glad to have them home safe and sound."
The trip, headed by humanities teacher Andrew Mallet as part of the GCSE History curriculum on World War I, has been an annual highlight for pupils for ten years - but it is the first time there has been such drama.
Headteacher Glenn Mayoh said: "The coach was delayed by about three hours while the French police carried out an investigation.
"It added a bit of time to the journey home, but it was important that this was undertaken thoroughly."
A UK Borders Agency spokesman said: "Last year over 29,000 individual attempts to enter the UK illegally were prevented at the juxtaposed [French and British] controls.
"The UK Border Agency is committed to tackling illegal immigration and its harmful effects.