Probe into bus depot sabotage which could have cost lives

McEwan's Coaches vandalism, Jedburgh. From left,Donald Cameron McEwan's Coaches depot manager, his daughter Emma Palmer and Len Wyse
McEwan's Coaches vandalism, Jedburgh. From left,Donald Cameron McEwan's Coaches depot manager, his daughter Emma Palmer and Len Wyse

THE former provost of Jedburgh has appealed to townsfolk to come forward if they have any information about a savage vandal attack, which cause damage in excess of £12,000 at a local bus depot.

Councillor Len Wyse issued his appeal on Monday after visiting the MacEwan’s garage which police think may have been broken into twice last week.

The police have also confirmed that the premises were deliberately targeted and Mr Wyse says the attack was “a blatant act of industrial sabotage”

On the first occasion, between 11pm on Tuesday and 6am on Wednesday, the three coaches – used by the company for Service 20 from Hawick to Kelso, via Denholm and Jedburgh, and parked inside the locked premises – had their windscreens and rear bonded windows smashed.

A toilet roll had been stuffed down a sink and the tap left running in a failed bid to flood the premises which are located off Edinburgh Road, opposite the Shell filling station.

With the vehicles immobilised and remaining in the garage on Wednesday, depot manager Donald Cameron arranged for cover for the service from two other bus operators – Peter Hogg of Jedburgh and Howard Snaith of Walkerburn.

Specialist coach fitters were called in to repair the window damage, at a cost of £2,000 per vehicle.

But a more sinister discovery was made on Thursday morning after one of the repaired buses had begun its service journey. It had dropped off passengers in Hawick, but it ground to a halt at Haughhead, two miles into its return journey, at around 7am.

It was soon evident that sugar had been placed in the fuel tank. A quick inspection of the two other coaches still in the depot revealed that hey had suffered the same fate.

After again calling on the generosity of other operators but keen not to be beaten by the saboteurs, Mr Cameron arranged for the three buses to be transported to Charlesfield near St Boswells and the commercial vehicle repair shop of Jock Borthwick.

The fuel tanks, which contained diesel worth over £800, were removed, emptied, flushed and fitted with new filters before being replaced and the fleet was back in service by Friday.

“The cash cost to our company is a conservative £12,000,” said a distraught Mr Cameron who revealed his firm, which has its headquarters in Dumfries, is due to submit a tender to Scottish Borders Council on Monday in a bid to win the re-tendered Service 20 contract.

“The garage was locked, but clearly not well enough to deter the person or persons who perpertated this vicious and senseless attack on our vehicles,” he told us. “To smash the bonded glass on the buses would have required iron bars, so I don’t suppose the lock on the door would have been much of a problem.”

The police say the incidents of the smashed windows and the sugar being poured into the tanks are connected and believe the latter incident may have occurred between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, raising the possibility that the vandal or vandals returned to the scene of the crime within 24 hours.

“These premises appear to have been deliberately targeted,” said a spokesman. “We are treating this as a serious incident and would welcome any help from the public who saw or heard anything suspicious in the vicinity.”

Mr Cameron is in no doubt that his firm, which employs six people at the Jedburgh depot, had been singled out.

“This was no random attack, because another coach, operated by Howard Snaith and parked close to our depot was not touched and there is no evidence of any malicious damage outwith our premises.

“It’s hard to describe how upsetting this has been for the staff here. I just hope someone will come forward to help the police.”

Mr Wyse, who represents Jedburgh on Scottish Borders Council, told us: “This was an absolutely terrible incident which does nothing for the town’s repuation.

“This was not just an attack on buses, but on the jobs of local people and an important small business which runs a vital service. I know the Shell filling station, for one, benefits from its business.

“I would issue an appeal to the people of Jedburgh who, like me, are appalled at this blatant act of industrial sabotage to come forward if they know anything about this.”

MacEwan’s has had a permanent presence in Jedburgh since 2009 when it won the Service 20 contract from SBC, beating off rival bids from Munro’s of Jedburgh, which had run the service for the previous five years, and the First Group.

Amid recessionary pressures and rising fuel costs, MacEwan’s boss John MacEwan gave notice to the council late last year that he could no longer afford to run the service on the terms previously contracted. He did, however, indicate he would bid for the re-tendered contract. According to Mr Cameron, these bids must be submitted by Monday.

“You cannot overstate the seriousness of putting sugar in the tank of a public service vehicle,” said Barry Austin, of Austin Travel in Earlston.

“When the engine goes, the compression which controls the brakes is also compromised, so if that had happened coming down a steep hill there could have been fatal consequences for passengers.

“Needless to say, a bus stopping unexpectedly on a bad corner is also a major hazard, so there was a deal of good luck in this incident not having a tragic ending.”

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron, who lives in Jedburgh and, until three years ago, was a director of Munro’s, told us: “I want to thank the bus operators and engineers who helped us and members of the public for their incredible support and sympathy. I wish the police every success in finding the morons responsible for this despicable act.”