POLICE are searching for two stowaways who clung to the underside of a school coach returning over 300 miles from France and jumped off in Prestwich.

The coach was returning with 36 Years 7 to 9 pupils from Prestwich Art College, accompanied by four members of staff and two drivers, after a four-day trip to the north of France between April 19 and 22.

Travelling via Eurostar the party stayed in Calais, making a number of day trips to sites along the coast, aimed at increasing students' awareness and understanding of French language and culture.

The group then travelled back to the UK through Folkstone at 2.50pm on Sunday.

At Calais, drivers performed normal walk-arounds and luggage compartment checks, joined by security patrols and sniffer dogs carrying out vehicle inspections.

After arriving back in Prestwich, the coach, from Nottingham based tour operator Halsbury Travel, performed a drop-off in the car park at the Longfield Centre.

As staff were busy helping students unload luggage from the coach, a waiting parent spotted two men drop from the underside of the vehicle and run away.

An alert was raised and the two men we pursued by the coach driver but got away, heading toward Heys Road. 

The two stowaways are described as black, aged 20 to 30 with one around 6 feet tall and the other around 5' 10'.

Police are now looking for the men and anyone with information should call police on 101.

Sgt Richard Garland from GMP Whitefield said: "We were called an hour and a half after it had happened, so we were limited in what we could do because they were off on foot. They could be anywhere.

"It's just one of those unusual jobs, especially with them both coming from under the bus rather than in the luggage compartment.

"They weren't in contact with any of the children and the school took it's measures to protect their children.

"If we did get hold of them we would be passing them on to immigration but the trail has gone cold."

A Home Office spokesman said that the department has not yet been contacted by GMP.

They added that due to the nature of the occurrence, and as it is still unclear where the two men are from, or their intentions, the incident remains a police matter.

Sgt Garland said: "We don't know who they are, where they have come from, although one can make an educated guess.

"Without knowing this or their nationality there's nothing we can do with the Home Office.

"Sometimes they hand themselves in or sometimes they have friends, family or contacts and they disappear."

However, he added that this was not the first such incident in the area.

He said: "Every couple of months we get one or two such cases around here, usually from rather lorries than coaches.

"We do get reports of people handing themselves in at petrol stations and a couple of months ago, on the M66, we had someone stand on the hard shoulder who was an asylum seeker."

Prestwich Art School has said that they do no know how the men stowed away on the coach, but added that the incident had made the trip even more memorable. 

Rachel Evans, Prestwich Art School headteacher, said: “The trip had gone extremely well and was enjoyed by the pupils, and until then everything had gone to plan.

"We have no idea when or where these men stowed away underneath the coach; when we left France the coach was thoroughly checked by security, including sniffer dogs, and the pupils’ passports checked.

"Thankfully at no point did the students come into contact with the stowaways or were placed at any risk. 

"I’m sure everyone will now remember this trip for more reasons than they expected."

Transport for the trip was provided by Halsbury Travel using Preston-based coach operator AvaCoach. 

The company was founded in 1986 by two former teachers, and carries around 50,000 pupils across Europe and worldwide every year.

Keith Sharkey, managing director of Halsbury Travel, said: "Halsbury Travel takes around 1,000 school groups a year abroad. The vast majority travel without incident.

"It has been reported to us that, on arrival back at the college, two people, stowaways, emerged from under the coach and ran away.

"We have made inquiries and have ascertained that the coach drivers have a check-list that they complete when travelling across the channel to ensure that every precaution is taken to avoid stowaways. The check-list was completed on this occasion.

"It would appear that despite the best efforts of the coach drivers, the port security guards and sniffer dog teams in Calais, that two stowaways emerged from under the coach when the party arrived back at college.

"We cannot speculate as to when they boarded the coach or where they are from.

"Halsbury Travel is cooperating with the coach operator and other authorities to investigate this matter."