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Driver of a 32-tonne truck that killed a girl, four, and three men ‘had been speeding and ignored a brake warning light as he went down a hill the HGV was banned from’

  • Driver ignored signs on steep hill in Bath banning heavy goods vehicles
  • Then ignored brake failure light before killing girl, four, and three men
  • Driver, mechanic at firm and owner of company involved all face trial
  • Prosecution today told court the lorry ‘should never have been’ on road

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The driver of a 32-tonne truck that killed four people drove at ‘excessive speed’ and ignored signs banning HGVs from the road, a court heard.

Philip Potter, 20, had been driving the fully-loaded lorry at 52mph in a 40 zone when he drove onto the steep hill, ignoring the signs to take a ‘shortcut’, it was claimed.

He also ignored a warning light on his dashboard before the brakes failed, sending the poorly maintained lorry ploughing into pedestrians and a car, killing four people.

Four-year-old Mitzi Steady (pictured), Robert Parker, 59, Philip Allen, 52, and Stephen Vaughan, 34, died in Bath, Somerset, in the horror crash on February 9 last year

Four-year-old Mitzi Steady (pictured), Robert Parker, 59, Philip Allen, 52, and Stephen Vaughan, 34, died in Bath, Somerset, in the horror crash on February 9 last year

Steve Vaughan was also killed in the crash while travelling with two friends in a car

Steve Vaughan was also killed in the crash while travelling with two friends in a car

Robert Parker, 59 Philip Allen, 52

Robert Parker, 59, and Philip Allen, 52, also died in the crash that the prosecution claim three men are criminally responsible for

A van driver travelling behind him told the court how he could smell burning and saw smoke pouring off the brakes, making it difficult to see before the crash.

Four-year-old Mitzi Steady died instantly while crossing the road with her grandmother Margaret Rogers, who was seriously injured along with another woman.

Steve Vaughan, 34, Robert Parker, 59, and Philip Allen, 52, were also killed when the lorry full of aggregate careered into the car they were in just outside Bath, Somerset, on February 9.

The truck’s driver, Phillip Potter, 20, his boss Matthew Gordon, 30, and mechanic Peter Wood, 55, face 14 charges in connection with the tragedy.

Potter says he filled in a form at Grittenham Haulage, where he worked, to alert his boss to the problem with the brakes, it was said.

But Gordon denies this and said it ‘had been on the other side of his desk and he had not got round to reading it’.

A van driver who was travelling behind Potter’s lorry told the court he could barely see through his windscreen because there was so much smoke pouring from the brakes.

Elliott Field, a builder from Glastonbury, Somerset, said: ‘I was behind the two lorries, travelling at a safe distance as I normally would. There was nothing out of the ordinary.

‘It wasn’t until just after a bend when I noticed there was something not right. I could smell burning brake pads and I could see smoke coming off the lorries.

The brakes failed in a 32-tonne lorry that careered into the road and killed four people in a horror smash on February 9

The brakes failed in a 32-tonne lorry that careered into the road and killed four people in a horror smash on February 9

‘At that point I decided to hold off because I could see they were starting to pick up speed.

‘They started to pick up more and more speed and I could see more and more smoke.

The smell was getting stronger.

‘It would appear the harder they tried to brake, the thicker it got. It was just getting denser and denser. It was actually getting quite hard to see.

‘I pulled over and lost sight of the lorries, then I took a different route home.

On my way back I was aware of a lot of emergency service vehicles in the area.

‘When I got home I heard the news there had been an accident and contacted the police.’

The jury was told that crash investigators could find ‘no evidence’ of any lubrication on any of the HGV’s eight brakes.

Jurors were also told that before reaching the fatal spot, Potter was speeding at 52mph, despite the legal limit for a fully-loaded lorry being 40mph.

He saw a series of signs which said that 20mph Lansdown Lane, which has a 20 per cent incline, was ‘not suitable for HGVs’ or vehicles wider than 6ft, it was said.

The court heard how the catastrophic brake failure caused 'devastation' (pictured) when the truck careered into a car and the four-year-old girl

The court heard how the catastrophic brake failure caused ‘devastation’ (pictured) when the truck careered into a car and the four-year-old girl

But he and his boss Gordon who was driving ahead of him in another lorry, both ignored the warnings – despite their trucks being 8.5ft wide, jurors were told.

The pair – who had not had a break all day – drove their trucks down the ‘rat run’ road to avoid the afternoon congestion, it was said.

Experts analysis of tachographs show that neither drivers had taken a mandatory break that day and both were speeding.

Adam Vaitilingam QC, prosecuting, said: ‘These lorries were not allowed to be and should never have been on Lansdown Lane.’

TRAGIC DEATH OF TINY TOT ATTRACTED 800 MOURNERS

Mitzi lived with her parents Andrew and Emmajade, 42, around half a mile from the pedestrian crossing where she died.

She was walking to Weston All Saints Primary School with her grandmother to pick up elder siblings Eric and Mycha when they were hit.

More than 800 mourners attended her funeral at Bath Abbey, with her wooden coffin painted in the style of Disney’s Frozen.

Paying tribute, Mrs Steady said: ‘You were the light of our lives, the love that filled our souls.

You were the sparkle in a dark night and the laughter ringing in our ears.’

Newlywed Mr Vaughan, from Penyrheol, Swansea, was co-founder of luxury taxi service EliteXecutive Travel.

He had a long list of famous clients including Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, Coronation Street actress Helen Flanagan and singer Katherine Jenkins.

His wife Sian said after his death: ‘We had only been married six months and I was honoured that he chose me to be his wife.’

He added: ‘Both of them were travelling at an illegal speed.

‘They had gone up to 56mph, which was the highest speed their lorries were capable of travelling at.

‘The maximum speed when they were fully laden was 40mph.

‘They were in a hurry, that is the same reason they went down Lansdown Lane rather than take the legal route into Bath.

‘Speeding in a 32 tonne truck and then using your brakes to slow down causes the brakes to heat up.

‘For any responsible driver it is not rocket science.

They know that perfectly well.’

The prosecutor said that all of these things led to disaster when Gordon stopped at a traffic calming measure and Potter tried to stop behind him.

Six of the eight brakes on the ‘poorly-maintained’ Scania lorry failed and it careered out of control, causing ‘absolute devastation’.

Bristol Crown Court heard that Potter, who had only been working at Grittenham Haulage for a few days, was being shown the ropes by his boss at the time.

But Gordon, who had run the company since December 2013, regularly and deliberately flouted the rules, the prosecutor said.

Mr Vaitilingam said there was a recurring theme in the case, that ‘Matthew Gordon was not a big fan of following other people’s rules’.

He said: ‘Matthew Gordon claims that he didn’t know about the weight restriction.

‘Philip Potter says, ‘Yes, I saw the sign but I thought it was OK because I was following my boss.’

Company boss Matthew Gordon, driver Phil Potter and mechanic Peter Wood were all responsible for the deaths of four people in a crash in February, a court heard Mechanic Peter Wood

Company boss Matthew Gordon (left), driver Phil Potter (right) and mechanic Peter Wood were all responsible for the deaths of four people in a crash in February, a court heard

Mechanic Peter Wood (pictured today outside Bristol Crown Court) was admitted that the brakes should have been tested every three weeks but were only done every three

Mechanic Peter Wood (pictured today outside Bristol Crown Court) was admitted that the brakes should have been tested every three weeks but were only done every three

He said the boss but a considerable amount of pressure on new employee Potter to do as he said.

According to a former Grittenham Haulage employee, the company had a rule ‘to take the shortest route possible.’

This meant going ‘through country lanes despite any restrictions, if it saved time or money or it meant an extra lorry load could be squeezed into a day’s work’, the court heard.

But the prosecutor added: ‘Ultimately, Potter chose to drive in the way he did.

‘He knew the anti-lock braking system light was on.

‘He knew he was speeding and driving using the brakes.

‘It’s not good enough simply for him to le in a box and say, ‘He made me do it.”

Phillip Potter was an 'inexperienced' driver who had started with the company just days before the crash

Phillip Potter was an ‘inexperienced’ driver who had started with the company just days before the crash

Jurors have previously heard that Grittenham Haulage, was a ‘shambles’ and was in breach of its legal obligation to employ a transport manager to oversee safety procedures.

Despite having 710,000km on the clock, the 2004 Scania lorry was poorly maintained and its brakes tested only once a year, it was said.

As a result, six of its eight slack adjustors weren’t working properly and failed ‘catastrophically’ when Potter braked.

Also killed in the crash were Stephen Vaughan, 34, of Swansea and Philip Allen, 52 and Robert Parker, 59, both of Cwmbran, South Wales.

Another woman, Karla Brennan, suffered life-changing injuries.

Potter denies causing the deaths by dangerous driving and the lesser charge of causing the deaths by careless driving.

He is also charged with causing serious injuries to Mitzi’s grandmother, Margaret Rogers, and Karla Brennan, by dangerous driving and denies 10 charges in total.

Gordon denies 14 charges including gross negligence manslaughter by failing to ensure the brakes were safe.

He also denies causing their deaths by dangerous or careless driving, and causing serious injuries to Margaret and Karla.

Wood denies the manslaughter of the four victims by failing to ensure the brakes of the truck were in a safe condition.

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