A DRIVER locked three children with autisum in her taxi after getting caught short while taking them to school.

The father of one of the children made a formal complaint to Essex County Council over its use of the transport company 24x7 Limited.

The travel service had been contracted by the authority in September to take the man’s autistic son to and from a school in the Tendring district, in addition to two other children.

The father’s concerns with the service included the taxi being more than half an hour late on five separate occasions and substitute drivers picking up the children in the wrong order.

He argued these failings made the journey longer and caused his son to often become distressed and anxious.

He also accused a relief driver of diverting from the usual route, before locking the three children in the car in order to go to use the toilet.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

After being questioned by the council, 24x7 Limited - who subsequently quizzed the driver - confirmed this to be true.

They explained the driver was running late as one of the children was not ready on time so they had not been able to stop for a toilet break.

24x7 Limited described the driver’s situation as an “emergency”, said she had “acted appropriately given the circumstances,” and offered an apology.

Unhappy with the response, the father has since sought the help of an ombudsman and submitted further complaints about last minute changes to drivers and the size of vehicles for children who struggle in small spaces.

Following an investigation, the ombudsman has now ruled there was fault causing injustice in the provision of transport for the boy.

Representatives from Essex County Council have since apologised “for any distress this incident caused” and have agreed to pay the father £550 in compensation.

They have also said they will not treat any of the incidents as issues of safeguarding but have instructed 24x7 Limited to not leave passengers unattended in the future.

The father, who asked to stay anonymous, said: “Given the seriousness of these incidents we are frustrated.

“The small amount of compensation awarded will in no way compensate my son for the trauma he suffered.

“Nor will it make up for the stress that was caused to us as a family and the psychological and educational impact on my son.”

24x7 Limited did not respond before the Gazette went to print.