Stagecoach fined £2.3m for death crash failings
This story has now been updated with the full Stagecoach Midland Red statement and a statement from the Police investigating officer. Scroll down for these
Stagecoach Midland Red South has been fined £2.3m and its former driver, Kailash Chander, has been given a two-year supervision order.
The sentencing was handed out at Birmingham Crown Court after a trial last year found the driver guilty of dangerous driving. The company pleaded guilty to two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act of putting members of the public and its own staff at risk.
The company was facing an unlimited fine over a crash in which the “fatigued” 77-year-old driver ploughed into a supermarket, killing a 76 year-old woman, a seven year-old boy and a young passenger.
A trial at the court which ended last September, heard that Chander mistook the accelerator for the brake, before the smash in Coventry in October 2015. The driver, a former mayor of Leamington Spa, was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial due to dementia. An expert told the court Chander may have been suffering from undiagnosed dementia – without showing symptoms to colleagues – at the time of the crash.
The jury at a finding-of-fact trial ruled that Chander, now 80, was driving dangerously. The trial was told that he had been warned about his “erratic” driving by his employer after four crashes in the previous three years. Just 48 hours before the crash, the employer was told by one of its managers that Chander was ‘not safe’ and should have his contract ended.
The court also heard that the company had failed to follow its own procedures by not monitoring his working hours. He had been referred to a driving school seven months earlier who had raised concerns about his capability, but the company had breached its own policies by failing to refer him to the school earlier.
The company has now reconsidered it’s employment of older drivers, and has made changes so that if any driver is given a recommendation not to work too many hours then that message is relayed to local managers, operation directors and managing directors.
Stagecoach Midland Red statement:
Phil Medlicott, Managing Director of Midland Red (South) Ltd, said: “None of us at our company will ever forget the terrible events of 3 October 2015. We are deeply sorry for the heartache of everyone affected, particularly the families of Rowan Fitzgerald and Dora Hancox.
“Safety is and always will be our first concern, and we take our responsibilities extremely seriously. We have made it our continuing priority to work very closely with the authorities to help fully understand and learn detailed lessons from what has happened.
“We know and fully accept that there were a number of failings at our company and we bear the weight of our responsibility for this terrible tragedy. That’s why we made early guilty pleas.
“While we met in full all the regulations around driver working hours and had all of the relevant checks in place, our own detailed policies were not followed as closely as they should have been. There were failures at an operational level in driver supervision and we deeply regret the opportunities that were missed to act decisively on emerging warning signs.
“Following the accident, our priority has been to put these matters right. We carried out a comprehensive review of all of our policies and have made several key changes. This means we have in place a significantly more robust safety regime than is required by law.
“This includes more frequent medical testing and a pre-medical review for older drivers, with appropriate checks being carried out every six months rather than on a statutory annual basis.
“We have put in place stronger measures to control working hours and have improved communications with our operational teams. We have also provided additional training to all drivers and strengthened the application of our accident reduction processes.
“In particular, we support a review of how current age discrimination law impacts specific roles with key safety considerations. This includes whether there should be a statutory maximum legal age limit for drivers of buses and other heavy vehicles.
“Our parent company, Stagecoach, is working with our industry partners to establish a consistent approach by government on these issues.
“We cannot turn back the clock in this case, but we have sought to do everything possible to learn lessons and ensure that this kind of accident does not happen again.”
Investigating officer Sergeant Alan Wood, from the Serious Collision Investigation Unit, said: “This has been a challenging and lengthy investigation for West Midlands Police and we know that the conclusions can give little satisfaction to Dora and Rowan’s families.
“Kailash Chander’s dementia issues mean that he cannot be formally tried for his driving that day and we really feel for the families that justice cannot truly be served against him.
“His employers, Midland Red South, have rightly pleaded guilty for their failure to manage their staff appropriately and place people as risk.
“However, it should not be forgotten that with any driver getting behind a wheel it is their personal responsibility to know they are fit to do so and their responsibility to drive appropriately. Chander did not have to work the hours that he chose to do.
“I know that that the families of Rowan and Dora cannot comprehend how a 77-year-old man could legally work a 75-hour week driving public service vehicles.
“I have to agree with their observations; common sense would say this cannot be right and it would appear a legal review of GB Domestic Rules for bus drivers hours is wholly appropriate.
“I would like to thank the families for their patience with the investigation and court proceedings, I know there have been times where they have been truly frustrated and I hope that now they can move on and start to rebuild their lives.”