THE parents of Hagley minibus crash victim Claire Fitzgerald were due to attend London's High Court today (Tuesday) as part of a bid to stop unregulated minibus drivers ferrying children around on school trips.

Taking place just a day after the 26th anniversary of the tragedy that killed 12 children and their teacher - the court case against the Department for Transport has been brought about by Martin Allen from the Bus & Coach Association.

Claire's parents Liz and Steve Fitzgerald were due to attend the court case, expected to last two days, to try to bring about an end to the continuing unsafe practices that led to the motorway disaster.

They said in a statement: "The legal duties of care rightly imposed upon those in the commercial sector provide a high standard of safety to protect passengers, drivers and all other road users. Such stringent requirements are however not placed upon the so called non-commercial sector.

"This appalling practice puts children at risk to save money by putting costs before the safety of children and others.

"The DfT and local authorities cannot be oblivious to the reality that this puts thousands of children and others at serious risk every single day.

"It is offensive to the memory of all the young people and their teacher who died in 1993.

“It’s a disgraceful and deliberate abuse by those whom we should be able to trust and who should, quite frankly, know better. This is just wrong on every level.”

Prior to the crash that killed Claire and her 11 friends the teacher driving the minibus had worked in school, then driven one of two minibuses to London without any other adult in her vehicle.

She supervised the group en route and during the trip all evening before leaving London to drive back to Hagley RC High School but - believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel after 16-and-a-half hours at work - she crashed into a motorway maintenance vehicle on the hard shoulder of the M40 at 25 minutes past midnight on November 18, 1993.

An inquest into the tragedy found the minibus was not fitted with seatbelts as legislation did not require it at the time but the law was later changed in 1997 to make seat-belts standard equipment on all minibuses and coaches. Seating in which opposing benches face each other was also outlawed.

But the Department for Transport continues to allow local authorities to award large contracts to charities and voluntary groups which transport children to and from schools and on trips without the need for commercial licences, safety policies, checks, maintenance and insurances which commercial operators are legally required to have in place.

Pat Harris, director of Belt Up School Kids (BUSK), said: “What is actually happening is a massive commercial enterprise by the back door and it’s worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to organisations who are avoiding the legal duties of care responsible operators have

“The practice encourages the operation of a systematic, deliberate and dangerous abuse of a process designed and intended for charity or voluntary group to operate without payment and purely on good will to facilitate community needs. The reality is very different to that, it’s a disgrace, it flies in the face of legal duties of care and puts vulnerable loved ones at risk every day. It is incredible that it’s been allowed to date, and it has to stop, and it has to stop now.

“This reflects very poorly on the DfT and local authorities. Everyone knows how cash strapped they are due to Government cuts and the Government needs to acknowledge that.

"The current situation isn’t acceptable and it’s incredibly upsetting that the DfT are seeking to defend it instead of supporting the legislation necessary to keep people safe.

"The abuse of this process the DfT seek to perpetuate allows just about anyone to drive children and sometimes the most vulnerable passengers around in minibuses when they might not be adequately trained, checked for suitability to work with children, not required to be medically fit or undergo eye checks nor have CPC certification that was introduced to improve passenger safety.”

Mrs Harris added: "Either the transport is safe or it is not safe. There can be no middle ground. After 26 years, have government including local authorities learnt nothing?

"BUSK and the Fitzgerald family simply cannot countenance another incident like the M40 tragedy."