Swansea men were killed when tipper truck’s brakes failed, court hears
A tragedy which saw four people killed when a tipper truck’s brakes failed was an “accident waiting to happen”, a court has heard. Phil Allen, 52, from Loughor and Stephen Vaughan, 34, from Gorseinon died in the incident – along with four-year-old Mitzi Steady from Bath, and Robert Parker aged 59 from Cwmbran. Mr Allen, a Western Power executive, was in the car with colleague Mr Parker, driven by Mr Vaughan, who owned Hendy-based EliteXecutive Travel.
Phillip Potter, 20, Matthew Gordon, 30, and Peter Wood, 55, deny several charges linked to the incident which happened on Lansdown Lane in Bath on February 9, 2015. Potter faces 10 charges of causing death and serious injury by dangerous/careless driving. Wood faces four counts of manslaughter as a result of gross negligence.
Gordon faces 14 charges altogether, 10 of causing death and serious injury by dangerous/careless driving and four of manslaughter as a result of gross negligence. Adam Vaitilingham, prosecuting, told the jury that Potter was an “inexperienced” driver when he followed his boss, Gordon, down Lansdown Lane with a full load of aggregate that day. He had only been working for Grittenham Haulage for only “a few days” at that time.
The pair were making their fourth delivery of the day, taking aggregate from a quarry in Wiltshire to Newbridge Park and Ride on the outskirts of Bath. Travelling down Lansdown Lane in Weston, Gordon managed to stop the truck he was driving at a traffic calming measure. But the brakes of the lorry driven by Potter failed, resulting in the “absolute devastation” that ensued, Mr Vaitilingham said.
Mr Vaitilingham said that Gordon set up Grittenham Haulage in 2013. But within a few months, his transport manager, which he was required to have by law, had left the company. The court heard that instead of replacing the transport manager, Gordon took on the role himself, which he was not qualified to do.
Gordon was the acting transport manager for Grittenham Haulage at the time of the tragedy on Lansdown Lane, and for several months beforehand. Mr Vaitilingham said that Wood was an “outside” mechanic brought in by Gordon to carry out the six-weekly safety checks of his lorries required. Mr Vaitilingham said: “It should go without saying that lorries should be safe before they go on the road.”
Virtually no defects were recorded in paperwork from a number of safety checks of the lorry involved in the collision – despite its having travelled around 700,000km – more than 400,000 miles. No problems with the brakes of the lorry were noted in the safety check immediately prior to the crash. Mr Vaitilingham said that Woods told police that “tipper lorries go through hell” and that they should be checked every three weeks, not every six.
The court heard that the government requires the braking efficiency of lorries to be tested every quarter using special equipment. But Mr Vaitilingham said that, over 10 months before the crash, Grittenham Haulage did not test the brakes of its lorries properly. They were only tested by road test when the trailers were not full.
At the time of the collision, the lorries were both carrying near their maximum load of 32 tonnes. The brakes of the company’s lorries were only checked properly once a year. “Either way, it’s further evidence of a poorly run company that just didn’t have a grip on what it needed to do to keep its fleet of lorries safe,” Mr Vaitilingham said.
Mr Vaitilingham said experts found “serious and long-standing defects” with the brakes of the lorry involved in the collision. But Wood said the lorry was in a “perfectly safe condition” when he checked it three weeks before the crash, Mr Vaitilingham said. “This sort of catastrophic brake failure doesn’t just happen through bad luck,” Mr Vaitilingham said.
“This was entirely predictable, the result of poor management and a disregard for the rules and a failure to comply with routine guidelines. “It was, put simply, an accident waiting to happen.” Experts who examined the lorry after the collision found “major problems” with the brakes on six of the Scania truck’s eight wheels and all four of its axles, Mr Vaitilingham said.
The prosecution maintains that Wood’s failure to identify and fix these defects at his safety check on January 17, 2015, constituted “serious and gross negligence”.
The lorry went out on public roads 32 times in the three weeks between the last safety check and the tragedy on Lansdown Lane.
The case continues.