Two people were killed after a Coventry bus driver was ruled to have committed the act of driving dangerously following a trial of facts at Birmingham Crown Court.
After a thorough investigation the bus driver − 80-year-old Kailash Chander from Coventry − was charged with two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and two charges of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, however he was found unfit to stand trial on medical grounds.
Seven-year-old Rowan Fitzgerald was with his cousin, grandfather and uncle on the top deck of the bus when it crashed into Sainsbury’s supermarket on Saturday 3 October 2015. Sadly Rowan died at the scene and his cousin suffered serious injuries, along with another passenger.
Pedestrian Dora Hancox, aged 76, was hit by the bus as it careered towards lampposts and the supermarket, she also died at the scene.
Kailash Chander had retired from his position as a bus driver at the age of 65, but was immediately taken on as a casual driver. He had worked an average of 75 hours per week in the three weeks preceding the day of the crash.
The jury saw CCTV footage which showed the double decker, driven by Chander, then aged 77, pull out from behind a single decker bus at speed. It clipped the rear end of the other bus before careering onto a grassed area, narrowly missing pedestrians and taxis. As it joined the road, Mrs Hancox was struck and the bus finally came to rest with the canopy of Sainsbury’s embedded in the top deck. A subsequent examination of the bus found no mechanical defects.
The bus company, Midland Red South was charged with Health and Safety offences, namely failure to ensure the safety of members of the public and their employees in allowing Chander to work so many hours despite many warnings about his driving performance.
The firm pleaded guilty to these offences at an earlier hearing.
Investigating officer Sergeant Alan Wood, from the Serious Collision Investigation Unit, said: “This has been a challenging and lengthy investigation for West Midlands Police and we know that the conclusions can give little satisfaction to Dora and Rowan’s families. Kailash Chander’s dementia issues mean that he cannot be formally tried for his driving that day and we really feel for the families that justice cannot truly be served against him.
“His employers, Midland Red South, have rightly pleaded guilty for their failure to manage their staff appropriately and place people as risk. However, it should not be forgotten that with any driver getting behind a wheel it is their personal responsibility to know they are fit to do so and their responsibility to drive appropriately. Chander did not have to work the hours that he chose to do.
“I know that that the families of Rowan and Dora cannot comprehend how a 77-year-old man could legally work a 75-hour week driving public service vehicles. I have to agree with their observations; common sense would say this cannot be right and it would appear a legal review of GB Domestic Rules for bus drivers hours is wholly appropriate.
“I would like to thank the families for their patience with the investigation and court proceedings, I know there have been times where they have been truly frustrated and I hope that now they can move on and start to rebuild their lives.”
Rowan’s family gave the following statement after the verdict:
“We have now had the opportunity to listen to all the evidence and view the horrific CCTV images that led to the death of Rowan. It is clear that both Kailash Chander and the management of Stagecoach Midlands are both fully responsible for the catastrophic events of 3 October 2015.
“For three years we have wanted answers to why this happened and to see justice for both Rowan and for Dora Hancox.
“Whilst the dementia issues of Chander have been explained to us and the court is satisfied that he is unfit to stand trial, we wish to point out a few things. At the time of the collision, this was a man who had retired as a bus driver 12 years earlier, returned as a casual driver and volunteered for numerous hours driving, despite warnings and awareness of fatigue issues. This was a man who, despite these warnings, put his name forward every day to drive and who, in the weeks prior to the collision was working 75 hours a week. This is a decision that he alone made and a decision that has certainly contributed to the death of Rowan. We are sure that the dangerous driving that he did on the day of the collision was as a consequence of both his age and his fatigue.
“Likewise for the management of Midland Red South (trading as Stagecoach Midlands) – to allow someone of that age and with such a poor employment record, to drive for such lengthy periods is total stupidity. He should not have been allowed to drive whatsoever, and their decision to allow this is also a significant reason that the collision occurred.
“The court findings today gives us no satisfaction, no sentence would ever stop the hurt that we feel for the loss of Rowan. However, we have real concerns that the deaths of Rowan and Dora will not be the last if laws are not reassessed and changed. Buses often carry numerous people in towns and cities, it cannot be allowed that drivers of buses can go on working until their late 70s. We understand age discrimination law but this is driving members of the public around city centres and there are obvious safety concerns. Dementia is often not diagnosed in its early stages so how many other PSV drivers of this age are driving UK buses with these difficulties undiagnosed?
“The hours worked by Mr Chander are, we are informed, legal under GB Domestic Rules. A bus driver can seemingly legally work for 75 hours a week and not have the same regulations as an HGV driver. This is completely ridiculous that HGV drivers, who only carry goods and not people have tighter working regulations governed by tachographs, whereas it appears a 77-year-old carrying up to 70 people on a double decker bus is allowed to do ridiculously lengthy hours when suffering the early stages of dementia.
“We don’t want the reasons why Rowan and Dora died to be forgotten, we want to see something positive come from this and at this time we feel this will only come from a change in law on bus drivers’ age and hours of work. This would prevent anyone having to go through what we have gone through over the last three years.
“We will be talking to our local MP and asking for this to be addressed for changes in the law.
“We would like to thank everyone for the support you have shown us as a family over these three years. We continue to attempt to rebuild our lives and would ask that our privacy is respected whilst we continue to do this.”
Sgt Wood also paid tribute to a 35-year-old member of the public outside Sainsbury’s who alerted pedestrians to the oncoming bus, ushering them out of the way and running to give help.
He said: “The actions of Tiel Portlock should be commended, I am certain that his bravery on the day saved many other lives. This is self-evident from the CCTV footage.”