Corner-cutting boss guilty of manslaughter

A haulage boss and a mechanic have been found guilty of manslaughter after a faulty tipper truck ran out of control killing four people.

The 32 tonne lorry had “calamitous” brakes. The driver lost control on a steep hill ploughing into pedestrians and crushing a car. He was cleared of dangerous driving after telling the court “I tried the handbrake. I put it on and nothing. I tried putting the lorry into third gear to try and get the engine to slow it down. I blasted the horn. It was the only thing I could think of to warn people.”

An accident investigator who examined the crashed truck which had 441,000 miles on the clock described it as “a pile of s***” saying it was the worst HGV he had ever inspected. “Serious and longstanding defects” were found but none were ever recorded in company paperwork.

Corners cut

The truck was operated by Grittenham Haulage Ltd. The court heard how in a bid to slash costs and maximise profits owner Matthew Gordon skimped on repair bills. He failed to maintain his company’s HGV fleet and allowed trucks to fall into an extremely dangerous state.

The prosecution described the company’s operation as a “shambles”. In the months leading up to the fatal incident there was no transport manager responsible for making sure vehicles were safe.

The firm hired Peter Wood to inspect and maintain vehicles. He was supposed to carry out mandatory six-week safety tests on the fleet. However, Wood was unqualified and an incompetent mechanic. He was paid £15 an hour to do in-house repairs so Gordon could avoid using more expensive outside mechanics.

It emerged the brakes on the crashed truck had not been properly safety tested for nine months. Wood gave the tipper truck the all-clear three weeks before the incident but prosecutors said the crippling defects would have been obvious to anyone competent.

Poor management

The prosecution said if any inspection took place “it was wholly inadequate”. It added “This sort of catastrophic brake failure doesn’t just happen through bad luck. This was entirely predictable, the result of poor management and a disregard for the rules and a failure to comply with routine guidelines. It was put simply an accident waiting to happen.”

Lengthy sentences expected

In failing to make sure the brakes were in a safe condition the haulage company owner was found guilty of four counts of gross negligence manslaughter.

The mechanic was also found guilty of four counts of gross negligence manslaughter by failing to make sure the brakes were safe.

They will be sentenced on 27 January and were told to expect lengthy custodial sentences.

Very casual safety

The police said their investigation revealed a shocking company culture that completely disregarded safety and maintenance. Indeed, the company was described as having a “very casual attitude towards safety”.

The police added “If there is a message which needs to come from this tragic incident it is that company owners must adhere to a duty of care to the public.”

Contact Ellis Whittam to make sure you carry out your public duty of care.

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