Lorry which killed 4-year-old girl had ‘serious and long-standing’ brake defects

A four year-old girl and three men were killed when the defective brakes on a 32-tonne tipper truck with more than 430,000 miles on the clock failed. A jury at Bristol Crown Court was told that brakes on six of the eight wheels on the HGV which killed Mitzi Steady in Lansdown Lane, Bath, were defective. Mitzi died instantly when the HGV hit her as she crossed the road with her gran Margaret Rogers.

Mrs Rogers and a second woman, Karla Brennan, suffered life-changing injuries and three men in a nearby car – Stephen Vaughan, 34, of Swansea and Philip Allen, 52 and Robert Parker, 59, both of Cwmbran – were also killed when the lorry collided with it. The jury was told that the crash around 4pm on February 9 last year was an “accident waiting to happen” and “entirely predictable”.
The heavily-loaded Scania truck, carrying aggregate, was being driven by inexperienced driver Phillip Potter, 20, who was being ‘shown the ropes’ by Matthew Gordon, 30, his boss at Grittenham Haulage; a company described in court as a “shambles from start to finish”.

Read more: Watch moment violence flares in Bristol nightclub as electrician’s jaw is broken on the dancefloor[1] Prosecuting, Adam Vaitilingam QC, said: “Gordon’s lorry was in front and leading the way but as they went down the hill, Potter’s brakes failed.” He said while Gordon managed to pull over, his young employee tried to brake – but six of his eight brakes failed.

He said: “He couldn’t stop and so went to overtake him and his lorry continued to career down Lansdown Lane, out of control. “It caused absolute devastation. “By the time it finally came to a stop, four people had suffered fatal injuries – a four-year-old girl who had been crossing the road with her grandmother and three men.

“Two other people suffered life-changing injuries.”
Potter, of Dauntsey, Wiltshire, denies charges of causing death and serious injury by dangerous and careless driving.

Gordon, also of Dauntsey, denies manslaughter by gross negligence – by failing to ensure that the brakes of the truck were in a safe condition – and causing death by dangerous driving. Mechanic Peter Wood, 55, of Brinkworth, Wiltshire, who checked the lorry over the month before the crash, also denies manslaughter by gross negligence, by failing to ensure that the brakes of the truck were in a safe condition.
Opening the case for the prosecution, Adam Vaitilingam QC told the jury of seven men and five women the defendants were “criminally responsible” for the deaths.

“They each carry responsibility for what went wrong that day and therefore the deaths of these four people and serious injuries to the other two,” said Mr Vaitilingam.
Read more: Watch amazing drone footage from Bristol’s flash floods[2] Describing Potter as an “inexperienced driver”, the barrister said: “He had only been at the company for a few days.

Although he was driving that lorry, he was in reality following after the lorry that was being driven by his boss.” Mr Vaitilingam said Potter and Gordon made four trips to Shorncote Quarry to collect aggregate, taking the weights of both lorries almost to their maximum of 32 tonnes. Following the fourth visit to the quarry, the two “fully laden” lorries headed to their final destination of the day – the park and ride at Newbridge, on the western outskirts of Bath.

Gordon, followed by Potter, drove down Lansdown Lane, a long and steep hill that runs through the village of Weston. “Gordon’s lorry was in front and leading the way but as they went down the hill the brakes of Potter’s lorry failed,” Mr Vaitilingam said.

“His lorry continued to career down Lansdown Lane out of control. It caused absolute devastation. The court heard that six of the lorry’s eight slack adjustors, which are used to adjust the brakes when needed, had too much or too little slack, so wouldn’t function as necessary.

When experts examined it, they found that “although Mr Potter pressed the brakes on the way down Lansdown Lane, a number of them didn’t work”. Neither of the brakes on the front axle were effective and left no marks on the surface of the road. Read more: Eastern European launches racist rant in front of terrified children in packed Bristol restaurant[3]

Mechanic Peter Wood, who checked it over every six weeks, admitted that such trucks “go through hell” carrying heavy loads. He claims that when he examined it on January 17, everything was working “perfectly”.
But the court heard that he didn’t test the brakes properly, meaning there were “major problems with the braking of the wheels on all four of the axles”.

Jurors heard that Grittenham Haulage failed to maintain its fleet well, meaning that the lorry’s brakes were tested only once a year at its MOT.
The prosecutor said that the operation, run by Gordon since December 2013, was a “shambles from start to finish”. It was granted a licence on the basis that there would be a full-time, qualified transport manager to oversee procedures, including safety ones.

Read more: Pregnant woman hit by car was sworn at by driver before he drove off – but police won’t investigate[4]
But Mr Vaitilingam said that eight months prior to the crash, the company was breaking the law as it had no one to fill the position. Instead, the owner took the role on himself despite being unqualified because he saw it as “not a necessity but a nuisance and one that he could ignore”.

Mr Vaitilingam said: “This was entirely predictable, the results of poor management and a disregard of the rules.

“It was simply an accident waiting to happen.”

The trial, in front of Mr Justice Langstaff, is expected to last between three and four weeks.

References

  1. ^ Watch moment violence flares in Bristol nightclub as electrician’s jaw is broken on the dancefloor (www.bristolpost.co.uk)
  2. ^ Watch amazing drone footage from Bristol’s flash floods (www.bristolpost.co.uk)
  3. ^ Eastern European launches racist rant in front of terrified children in packed Bristol restaurant (www.bristolpost.co.uk)
  4. ^ Pregnant woman hit by car was sworn at by driver before he drove off – but police won’t investigate (www.bristolpost.co.uk)

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