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Sunday, 28 February 2010

A customer issue this week

Now then, you'll know that there is quite a lot of stuff I can't always write about because it is politically or commercially sensitive but if you've been following a story in Bristol this week you'll have seen the public side of something which has been going on and which I am going to make some comment about even though the case is not closed.

Earlier this week a young lady complained she had been ejected from a bus in Bristol for breastfeeding. According to her there was a complaint from another passenger, the driver threatened to call the police, and she was left humiliated by the roadside, in the rain, and forced to take a taxi, at some cost.

We swung into action with an apology, vouchers, flowers and of course there was the inevitable stuff with the press. The story went national and was all over the internet, in mothers' rights columns as well as the daily newspapers.

Of course - we entirely respect the rights of mothers to breastfeed, apologised profusely but the whole thing was reputationally damaging.

In due course, having sat through hours of CCTV we conclude this report is complete fiction.  A young lady resembling the complainant does board the bus at the time and place she says but actually breastfeeds completely without hindrance, and far from being thrown off the bus, alights of her own free will at the terminus. The CCTV entirely corroborates the driver's version of events.

Of course we remain open to the possibilitity that she has the time and date wrong, although it is something of a co-incidence that a young lady of similar age and appearance was breastfeeding on the very bus her original complaint referred to. Although invited to view the CCTV footage, she prefers not to.

And why am I telling you this? Well firstly because it is fair to say that there was a natural assumption by many that the lady was being truthful and the driver was in the wrong. I sincerely regret that he was put in such a position. And secondly because whilst the media was quick to highlight the story, so far only the Bristol Evening Post has had the courage to run a new page 1 and page 2 story setting out the facts as they are now appear to be.

For everyone else in the UK we will be remembered as the miserable, narrow-minded bus company which ejected an innocent mother in winter.

But fortunately the internet spreads very quickly around the world. Even this blog can be read by ordinary people, encouraged and asssted by the power of search engines. So for this reason, and to set the record straight, I have no hesitation in referring to Amy Wootten of Stockwood, Bristol, England who, it appears, was never forced off a bus in the way described in her complaint to the media and to apologise to Rob Stone, our driver, for the brief period this week when in the Court of Public Opinion it was taken for granted that he had acted improperly.

This is a matter which is not yet concluded. Further representations and evidence may yet come to light. However this information is correct to the best of my knowledge at this time (Saturday night) and I publish it now to place it in the public domain whilst the issue remains topical in the minds of the public at large.



  1. Ah the old spurious complaint. Don't you just love them?

  2. Well Done First! I hope that you can get the more widespread media to publicise this latest development and that you can further get an apology from the complainant.

  3. Good for you to put the matter straight, but I notice no references in the press from First to apologise to the driver for the hassle he was undoubtedly put through as a result of this woman and her false complaint, and the automatic assumption that something had happened.

    Sorry, but to me that smacks of double-standards. Have you sent the driver and his family flowers or anything by way of apology?

  4. Oh excellent! Presumably the customer's next move would have been to consult a solicitor for 'compensation'. Hah - well not any more...!

    Let's hope that this sends out a message to the other chancers out there. And lets hope more bus companies invest in CCTV for the protection of passengers and staff alike.

    I hope First vigorously pursues the national media in rebutting these claims. And I trust the media vigourously attempt to contact this lady for 'clarification' of her story...!

  5. It is very important to put the record straight. While there are certainly questions for the young lady it would also be interesting to know why First apologised if your driver said the story was incorrect. Reputation managment is vital and one applauds a company being prepared to admit it got things wrong. However, there is also reputation with your staff to consider and so in this case you have suffered a double hit. Moreover, of course, if you have already apologised it is not surprising that the media might say that First is the authort of its own downfall, makng it harder to get a retraction.

    Jonathan Haslam

  6. Yes, I do think Jonathan has a valid point....

  7. Re JH Comment. The issue is surely that of the speed in which reputational damage can occur. In this sort of incident, organisations face a balancing act between responding to allegations (which may or may not be true / he said / she said)and losing the initiative to appear as a responsive organisation. I would suggest that had the company responded with a "we are investigating" response, the media outcome would have been exactly the same albeit without the "responsive organisation" message. The effect on the driver would have been the same in the court of Public Opinion.

    Furthermore, had the company suggested that Ms Wootten's version of events did not match the driver's version, and had the company later been proven wrong, the reputational risk (and media frenzy) could very well have been greater.

    The full investigation should give the employees confidence and assurance of the company's commitment to employees as has been demonstrated by the outcome of this incident.

    It should also give the media confidence and assurance in the future, that the company takes all complaints extremely seriously whilst having a case study available to demonstrate that not all complaints are what they seem.

    Lastly, it should also, I suggest, provide a clear message to those who are intent on making false claims, that this company is not an easy target.

    1 March 2010 11:39

  8. Re 'Moose' I take a different view based on 30 years' experience of media management. The media would have had very little to go on if the company had taken a line on finding out what actually happened. The media are stretched these days but they do need more than a single source for a story. They could run this story because the company apologised. A commitment to investigate and report the findings openly to the media is hard to argue against.

    Of course the internet is fast, but I still have a problem about apologising when the facts aren't clear. If the media then run something they are open to PCC action - a bit toothless maybe, but it is still there - or sterner action. And you can always shake a lawyer at the media lawyer to remind them of their responsibilities.