A bus company has been fined £2.3 million for “significant” health and safety failings after a “fatigued” driver ploughed into a supermarket, killing a passenger and a pedestrian.
Midland Red (South) had pleaded guilty last year to two offences contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act, by allowing Kailash Chander to continue working despite what a judge called “repeated” warnings about his driving.
The Stockport-based company, which is part of the Stagecoach Group, had apologised to the families of those killed and injured ahead of sentencing at Birmingham Crown Court, on Tuesday.
Chander, 80, a former mayor of Leamington Spa, was given a two-year supervision order after he was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial due to dementia.
A trial of facts at the court which ended in September heard Chander mistook the accelerator for the brake before the smash in Coventry in October 2015, in what was described in court as a “gross” failure by the driver.
A jury ruled that Chander, 77 at the time of the crash, was driving dangerously when he killed primary school pupil Rowan Fitzgerald, seven, and 76-year-old pedestrian Dora Hancox.
The six-day trial was told that Chander had been warned about his “erratic” driving by his employer after four crashes in the previous three years.
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 hearing had been adjourned for sentencing with the judge handing down his sentence after a two-day hearing, on Tuesday, though Chander was not present, as he is now suffering a variety of health problems.
Sentencing the company, Judge Paul Farrer QC, said the company “failed to follow policy” in the run-up to the fatal crash.
A driving assessment in April 2015 suggested Chander “may have been capable of driving to the satisfactory standard, if properly rested”.
But a warning to maintain his limited hours was “not enforced, and almost immediately ignored” by depot managers.
As a result, Chander was at the wheel of the bus when he made a “fundamentally tragic and fatal error”.
The judge added: “The failings of the company were a significant cause of the events of October 3 2015.”
He said: “Over the course of a six-month period, Mr Chander was driving a bus in circumstances where he was permitted to drive while fatigued, inevitably involving a high risk of death or serious injury to the public of Mr Chander himself.”
In court on Monday, at the start of this week’s two-day sentencing, prosecutor Andrew Thomas QC read victim impact statements from Rowan’s grandmother Barbara Fitzgerald, as the boy’s mother Natasha Wilson wept in the public gallery.
Mrs Fitzgerald said: “He was a beautiful, friendly little boy with a cheeky smile and a mischievous nature.”
Rowan’s mother, in her statement, said: “He had a heart of gold, he was our sunshine on hard days. He made life full of laughter.
“The pain is indescribable, some days we feel paralysed. Some days we don’t want to live any more.”
Dora Hancox’s daughters, Wendy and Katrina, also had statements read to court.
Katrina said: “I’m heartbroken that my mother’s life was taken away from us. I feel cheated as I never got to say goodbye to her.”
During mitigation for Midland Red, the company’s barrister Richard Atkins QC said company had co-operated with the police and Health and Safety Executive investigation and was “well run” with an otherwise good safety record.
He added the firm had made more than a dozen changes to its safety policies and procedures, since the accident.