Bath trial prompts call for agreed safety standards

31st Jan 2017

On 9 February 2015, a tipper truck lost control in Bath, killing four people.

On 27 January 2017, Grittenham Haulage owner Matthew Gordon was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison, having been convicted of manslaughter in December. Technician Peter Wood, employed by Grittenham on a part-time basis and responsible for checking the brakes, was given a prison term of five years and three months.

And so, in passing judgment over Grittenham Haulage, Justice Brian Langstaff not only condemned Mr Gordon and Mr Wood, but also shined a light on how some operators are still not adopting the accreditation scheme designed for the maintenance of commercial vehicles.

When passing sentence to Mr Gordon, Justice Langstaff said: “It was an accident waiting to happen.” And to Mr Wood, he said: “The defects were staring you in the face.”

The driver, 20-year-old Philip Potter, was cleared of all charges at Bristol crown court in December.

At the trial, Adam Vaitilingam, QC for the prosecution said, ‘This sort of catastrophic brake failure does not just happen through bad luck.’

With the two men being held in custody since their guilty sentence, the industry has had time to reflect, in a bid to ensure there are no such repeats.

The Society of Operations Engineers Chief Executive, Ian Chisholm, believes this incident has served to highlight how some businesses can still operate with such little regard for safety.

“Despite the hard work of many operators in prioritising safety procedures, this case clearly illustrates the disparity with which some adhere to the guidelines, and others do not. Put simply, the time has come for effective self-regulation,” said Mr Chisholm.

“It is likely the public would be surprised, if not shocked, to know that there is no agreed standard which reaches across the whole industry,” said Mr Chisholm. “This is a case we know all about. How many other near misses have there been which go unreported?”

According to The Road Haulage Association, 85% of UK goods are moved by road, which underlines how crucial the sector still is for UK commerce.

RHA Director of Policy, Jack Semple, said: “The Bath tipper case was an appalling, extreme example of bad practice. But hauliers are responsible for the roadworthiness of their vehicles at all times and need to satisfy themselves that maintenance providers are both diligent and competent to do the work. The RHA recommends the irtec standard to members seeking assurance of good standards from maintenance suppliers.”

A member of IRTE for 30 years and current SOE President, Shaun Stephenson, said: “The irtec licence is designed to specifically improve standards of vehicle maintenance. If standards are raised within workshops through irtec, ultimately, roads will become safer.”

Brake, the road safety charity, successful recently in raising awareness of the dangers associated with mobile phone use on our roads, believe the safety procedures in place at Grittenham Haulage were simply not up to the required standard.

“Our thoughts are with all four families on what must have been yet another milestone, as they attempt to come to terms with life without their loved ones. This was a wholly preventable tragedy - a rogue operator running a lorry that was riddled with lethal faults. Their casual disregard for safety led to four deaths. The sentences passed are unduly lenient for the crimes committed,” said Brake spokesman Mike Bristow.

DVSA Chief Executive, Gareth Llewellyn, said: “This sentence sends a clear message to commercial operators that they have a duty to ensure their vehicles are roadworthy at all times. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those affected by this tragic and totally avoidable incident.”

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John Christopher Luty

Saturday, 04 February 2017 12:59:45

As both a qualified HGV mechanic, IRTE member and the nominated transport manager for the organisation I work for I followed this case at "arms length" It in my view raises a number of points.

Firstly to my knowledge there is currently nothing to stop anyone irrespective of their level of expertise or qualification setting themselves up as a "mechanic" and inspecting servicing or repairing any vehicles they choose.

I am reminded of the instructor at the RTITB training school I attended who was advocating the registering of mechanics way back in 1976 in the same way that CORGI registered gas fitters back then, he correctly stated that until such a scheme was in place then mechanics would never really command the respect the trade deserved.

Secondly (although I fully support IRTEC and I am looking to get all of my mechanics accredited) even with voluntary self regulation like the IRTEC scheme this will not drive out those elements of the industry responsible for the above tragedy, as there will always be operators who are prepared and willing to cut corners on maintenance.

I'm assuming that cases of this nature are very rare as they do not appear in any press trade or otherwise, what you do not see of course are the near misses, and I am often taken aback when talking to mechanics who do not understand that carrying out a planned O licence safety inspection is to ensure that the vehicle is not only safe, legal and roadworthy but will remain so until the next planned inspection.

Although in the above case it is apparent that the vehicle wouldn't have been safe, legal and roadworthy when it was last inspected

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