A bus driver has been left brain dead after an alleged gang attack by five passengers who did not want to wear masks.
Masks are currently compulsory on all public transport in France, but members of the group refused to put them on when they got on the vehicle – a cross between a bus and a tram run by the Chronoplus company – in the south west city of Bayonne yesterday evening, at about 7pm.
An investigating source said: ‘They got on the bus without masks, and also refused to show a ticket.
‘The first to get on had a dog with him – they just assumed they could all get on and do what they want, but the driver had to do his job.
‘When he stood up to them, a very unpleasant argument developed, and voices were raised and then the driver was attacked when everybody spilled out on to the bus platform.
‘Philippe was punched and kicked repeatedly and then left with serious injuries, before the gang escaped.’
Philippe was rushed to a nearby hospital and placed in intensive care, before being declared ‘brain dead’ on Monday.
Police meanwhile tracked down the 30-year-old man with the dog, who identified the other four attackers.
All were in custody in Bayonne on Monday, but have not been identified, said a spokesman for Bayonne prosecutors.
A colleague of Philippe described him as a ‘decent and hardworking man who always looked after passengers.’
He added: ‘There has been a lot of tension over masks, because they are the law, but bus staff are not police, and we should not have to enforce the law.’
The Chronoplus colleagues said there had been three other assaults related to masks in recent days, but none as serious as the one involving Philippe.
Claude Olive, the Mayor of Bayonne, said meetings were in progress to try and improve security on buses.
‘This was a barbaric attack,’ said Mr Olive. ‘Philippe was a wonderful person who should have been protected.’
Masks became mandatory as France began to move out of Covid-19 lockdown towards the end of May.