In December 2006, Paul and Caroline Vodden’s 11-year-old son Ben committed suicide.
What could have caused a bright young boy, in his first year of secondary school, with his whole future ahead of him, to hang himself?
It became very clear that his death was the result of one thing – persistent and cruel bullying on the school bus.
I’ve just met Ben’s father Paul Vodden. He was in Wiltshire at the first Busk Road Transport Safety conference held at the headquarters of fleet management specialist Arval in Swindon.
Paul and Caroline were launching The Vodden Report – an online survey to assess bullying on dedicated school buses.
They secured funding to carry out the survey of children last year from The Diana Award and their efforts have been supported by organisations including 4Children, BullyingUK and Kidscape.
Hearing this family’s story literally stunned the audience into silence. Paul described the kind of bullying his son was experiencing.
“Had it just been Ben’s peers he may well have coped with the bullying but the bus driver decided to join in and, in our view, this took the situation to another level.
“Most of what he said I cannot repeat but it included comments such ‘ask your parents to get you a friend for Christmas as you’re a billy-no-mates’.
“Here was an adult taking part in his denigration. This adult should have been someone to look up to, not someone who helped persecute him.”
At Ben’s inquest in West Sussex an open verdict was recorded. The bus driver denied disliking Ben but admitted making such statements to him, saying they were “banter”.
It was also claimed the school had treated each complaint as “isolated” and did not treat the incidents as linked so the picture of a campaign of bullying didn’t emerge.
The bus company concerned said its driver couldn’t possibly have behaved in that way.
“Our family was let down by everybody at every turn,” Paul said. “The council, the school and the bus company.”
Management at the school has now changed and, Paul said, matters had apparently improved.
Since that time Ben and Caroline have been vocal about issues relating to bullying and want to raise awareness of the hidden ‘hot spot’ of bullying – the school bus journey.
It’s interesting to consider that if a school trip is arranged there has to be a ratio of adults to children on board. However, on the school bus, no such rules apply. Often the only adult is the bus driver, whose main job is to drive safely from A to B.
“The situation on the dedicated school bus is, by its nature, potentially problematic as far as bullying is concerned,” said Paul.
“There is no formal supervision and virtually no opportunity of avoiding conflict situations.”
When the Vodden survey was completed, 541 responses from children were received and 268 talked of bullying on the school bus.
- You can find out more about the Vodden Report at http:// bit.ly/1fqXco6 on Twitter @VoddenReport or Facebook, VoddenReport, RIP Ben Vodden
- The recent Parliamentary debate can be found at http://bit.ly/1mK0Gq5
- Some online sources for support are: www.kidscape.org.uk; www. bullying.co.uk and www. childline.org.uk