A COACH driver from the district found himself at the centre of the terror attack in London.
The 54 year-old, who works for Catteralls in Southam, but who did not want to be named, had driven a party of pupils and staff from Balsall Common Primary School to the capital for a visit to the Houses of Parliament.
Some of the children, staff and parent helpers were outside Parliament, and others in the gift shop, when they heard gunshots ring out.
The driver, who has worked for coach hire firm Catteralls for six years, was parked up a couple of miles away when he received a call from one of the school’s teachers.
It came after Khalid Masood had ploughed his rental car into people walking along Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer to death outside Parliament. Four people were killed in the rampage and over 50 injured before Masood was shot dead by police.
The coach driver – who was parked waiting to pick up the pupils in Millbank when Masood struck – told The Observer: “My job was to pick children up from Balsall Common Primary School, drop them off at the Houses of Parliament, and then return them home.
“We parked up and left them to it.
“We were just getting ready to pick them up when we received a call from one of the teachers at around 2.50pm saying there had been a shooting.
“I wasn’t sure what they had seen but they mentioned a car had crashed into the side of the road.”
Staff and pupils from the school had to walk through St James’ Park and past Buckingham Palace before meeting the coach in Park Lane – approximately two miles from the terror scene.
The driver added: “Police officers wouldn’t let them walk from Parliament to where we were parked.
“There was obviously a lot of traffic and you could tell people knew something major had happened.
“Catteralls sent a news link out to drivers so we knew what was going on at the time.
“I wouldn’t say there was much of an adrenaline rush for ourselves.
“A lot of parents called asking if the children were okay.
“When everyone was on the coach the teachers told the children how wonderful they had acted in a serious situation and underlined the fact we were all safe.”
Graeme Burgess, headteacher at Balsall Common Primary School, praised his own staff and Caterall’s.
He told The Observer: “Staff immediately knew something was wrong and jumped into action, whisking the children to safety.
“Their actions – and the amazing response of the children who followed instructions and behaved impeccably in a crisis – meant they were led very quickly to safety.
“A huge thank you also to Cateralls who managed to wind their way across the city to pick us up and bring us home safely.”
Mr Burgess added teachers called the school within minutes to say all the children safe and they were going to the coaches to leave London as soon as possible.
“The teachers let us know, within minutes of the attack, that all the children were safe and told us their plan to move away from the area and meet the coaches at a new agreed location.
“Our prime concern was to get the children to safety and I told the teachers to let me know when that was the case.
“There was a time gap of around an hour-and-a-half between the incident and the children being safely loaded onto the bus and driven home.”
Parents were kept informed at all times and the school sent out information via Twitter.
The following morning the staff sat down with the pupils on the trip to talk about their experience.
Mr Burgess added: “These things can often take a few days to hit home, but thankfully the children did not witness any of the awful incident.
“Whilst we are relieved that all of our children were safe, the school would like to extend their condolences to those who lost loved ones in this horrendous incident.”