A BUS firm is wheeling out its “battle bus” in the war against vandals attacking its services.

First will use a bus specially equipped with cameras on a route that has been targeted by children throwing rocks and stones.

It comes as the Daily Echo can today reveal that a child as young as seven was involved in an ambush of the number 2 service along Redbridge Hill in Millbrook, Southampton.

The seven-year-old was part of a gang of five children who smashed three windows on the bus while frightened passengers were on board. They have all been handed Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs), a junior version of an antisocial behaviour order.

First initially stopped running the number 2 service for the safety of staff and passengers but has since reinstated it.

However the company warned it could be withdrawn altogether if the attacks did not stop.

Bus chiefs, who have held emergency talks with police and community leaders, revealed that it cost them £300 to replace each broken window. In one year, 2008, First spent £750,000 in Hampshire alone replacing broken glass in its buses.

Now the company is ready to deploy its “battle bus”.

First’s business performance director Chrissie Bainbridge said: “It will be used as part of the service as a deterrent to catch out those involved.

“Often the problem is that we cannot see where the missiles are coming from and the culprits are very good at telling each other where the bus is coming from and one of the problems is that by the time the attack happens the kids have gone.

“It makes drivers anxious and the safety of drivers and passengers is the most important thing. We do not want to withdraw a service from anywhere because of the actions of some vandals. But should this continue we would review the service.”

Community leaders in Millbrook have spoken out against the attacks.

Louise Archer, chairman for Maybush Triangle Residents’ Association said: “We are not happy if the bus companies suspend services as it will impact on those trying to go about their daily lives. It is unfortunate that the minority spoil it for the majority by these mindless acts of vandalism.”

Millbrook Ward councillor David Furnell, said: “The Maybush Triangle area is isolated and if they did withdraw the service it would isolate the area even more. It would be very detrimental to the community.

“People are dependent on that bus here, they need to use it to go to school, work, the local post office and the hospital.”

He praised First’s response and the use of the “battle bus”.

Police have defended the use of ABCs and warned that tougher action would be taken if the vandalism attacks on buses continued.

Millbrook engagement officer PC Lynette Chant said: “I think this is the right way to deal with something like this. It is what community policing is about. We are dealing with young people and we want to reduce re-offending by educating and intervening.”

“These are very young children and it is what is best for the community and the individuals involved and that was to stop the attacks continuing as soon as possible.”

Just days after the Redbridge Hill attack, two other buses running through Shirley Road, near Mandela Way were vandalised. The terrifying assault saw an old man showered with glass.

The attacks are not thought to be linked.

Police are in talks with bus companies in the city to introduce an educational programme to teach children about the dangers of vandalism against buses which could be rolled out to schools in the future.