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Man has hair set on fire on public bus

Aug 8, 2014Bus Express

AN incident where a man’s hair was set on fire while aboard a Newcastle bus has been called one of the ‘‘worst’’ violent assaults the transport union has been made aware of.

The NSW Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) also slammed police for ignoring a bus driver’s request for help with a large group of people before the attack took place.

Police say that the bus driver should have refused to take the rowdy group of people in the first place.

The first sign of trouble occurred at 9.40pm on Thursday when a large group of 30 to 40 people, who appeared intoxicated, tried to board a bus at Charlestown Square.

The bus driver of the 100service kicked them off because of their antisocial behaviour.

Police, who were paid by Charlestown Square to patrol the area, attended the scene and the large group of people started swearing at them.

When another bus pulled up, the group of people boarded it.

The second bus driver asked the police to get on and help him until the troublemakers got off.

The officers declined because of duties at Charlestown Square.

Within 15 minutes, when the bus reached Croudace Street in Lambton, a brawl broke out and people began punching a 22-year-old man.

The victim then had his hair set on fire and eventually had to be taken to John Hunter Hospital.

The offenders forced open the door of the bus and made a getaway.

Newcastle police attended the scene quickly and used a dog to find a number of suspects in a nearby street, who are assisting them with inquiries.

RTBU bus division president Gary Way said it was not a one-off outbreak of violence and there needed to be more security guards or transit police on  late-night bus services.

‘‘The assault on this person was so vicious that we can’t stand by and say nothing,’’ he said.

‘‘This is one of the worse incidents of violent assaults on public transport I’ve been made aware of.

‘‘I don’t know why the people of Newcastle are being treated like second-rate citizens; late night transport services out of Kings Cross have a security.’’

He also said it was unacceptable police refused to support the bus driver.

A spokesman for Lake Macquarie police has defended the actions of the officers at Charlestown Square, saying the officers advised the driver he did not have to take the group of people.

The spokesman said that because the police were paid by Charlestown Square to patrol the area, they could not leave.

‘‘[The driver] was informed that as the officers were committed to other duties as user-pays police they could not accompany the bus,’’ the spokesman said.

North Central Police Transport Command Inspector Paul Kelly said that transit police were working on another job at Newcastle at the time of the incident. He said they were adequately resourced.

‘‘Our roster, tasking and strategies are evidence based and intelligence based,’’ he said.

‘‘On a Thursday night, four to six staff are tasked to work and that includes patrolling areas such as the bus routes at Kotara and Charlestown Square.’’

Article by Ashleigh Gleeson originally published in the Newcastle Herald

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