A BUS driver has been removed from a school run after making a sick joke about the Soham murders to two girls.

Ray Brown, 61, asked the teenagers: "Where are your Manchester United shirts? I am Ian Huntley."

The distressed girls reported his comment to teachers at Sedgefield Community College, County Durham, and a complaint was made to his employer, Go Northern.

Mr Brown has since been disciplined and removed from the school run.

Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, both aged ten, were wearing identical Manchester United shirts when they were abducted and murdered by school caretaker Ian Huntley in August 2002.

Mr Brown made the remark when the two teenage pupils boarded the school bus in Sedgefield to go to the college.

It followed weeks of banter between the driver, who operates from the Bishop Auckland depot, and the two 15-year-olds.

Mr Brown said the remark was intended as a joke, but the girls' parents were furious when told of his comments.

Headteacher at the college Lynne Ackland said: "We were appalled. How anyone can find anything about Ian Huntley funny is quite beyond my comprehension.

"The two pupils involved were really upset and came straight into school to tell us what had happened.

"We wrote a report on the incident and passed it on to the head of transport at the local authority."

A spokesman for Go Northern said Mr Brown had been a bus driver for 26 years and was remorseful of his action.

He said: "He totally regrets the throw-away comment made about Ian Huntley.

"It was made when two students from the college got onto his bus.

"He admits his remarks were in totally bad taste but there was no malicious intent in them."

The spokesman added: "He is an excellent driver and has been with us many years.

"He made a very bad mistake but it was no worse than that, there was no malicious intent, no one's safety was at risk.

"It was just a very unwise remark.

"Mr Brown has returned to his normal driving duties, with the exception of the school run, as we feel there needs to be a cooling off period."

Huntley was jailed for life in December 2003 after he was found guilty of the two murders.

His ex-fiancee, Maxine Carr, was sentenced to three and a half years for conspiring with him to pervert the course of justice.