A woman has criticised train bosses for failing to protect passengers from a carriage full of teenage thugs.

Karen Spero, 39, said Connex failed in its duty of care after she spent 15 minutes stuck on the stationary train outside Brighton. She said more than 50 teenagers packed into the carriage began to abuse and threaten her verbally , while others urinated and spat nearby.

One 16-year-old indecently exposed himself, demanding to know if she thought he was under-age. Mother-of-one Ms Spero said: "It was terrifying. I have always thought I was a strong person but I was really disturbed by this. It was really threatening, especially when you realised how many there were."

Ms Spero, of East Brook Road, Portslade, got on the train at Fishersgate just after 6.30pm and was travelling to the Brighton Womens' Centre where she works as its secretary.

The carriage was packed with drunken teenagers who had got on at Lancing and claimed to be going to an under-18s disco at a nightclub in Brighton.

Ms Spero said: "They were yelling and screeching so much I turned round and told them to be quiet. It was the worse thing I could have done because I simply drew attention to myself."

A gang of youths crowded round and started threatening her and making obscene comments. She considered getting out at Hove but stayed on the train thinking it would only be another couple of minutes to Brighton station. However the train stopped just outside the station and stayed stationary for another 15 minutes.

Ms Spero said: "We were trapped on this train with no way of escaping. It was horrendous. I had assumed the police had been called but when we finally got into the station there was nobody there. All the youths ran off and jumped over the ticket barriers. I usually use the train three times a week but since Monday I've had to get someone to give me a lift into Brighton or get the bus. At the moment I can't face using the train."

Connex spokesman David Ewart insisted staff had done exactly the right thing and explained the train stopped outside the station for seven minutes because one of the teenagers pulled the communication cord.

The conductor himself had already been attacked by the youths who sprayed something in his face and police were called when the train was in Lancing. He said according to the conductors' report officers were unable to attend because they were busy dealing with another incident in Crawley.

But Insp Mick Morriss, of British Transport Police in Brighton, said although officers were called to help with an incident on Lancing station there was no request for help on the train itself until just before 7pm.

He said: "Nobody contacted us and said there were 40 youths causing trouble on this train until it was pulling into Brighton. Our officers arrived four minutes later, but by then the youths had run off. If we had been given five minutes notice we would have been in Brighton. It's unfortunate we do not get calls with enough notice."

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