Vehicle-testing firm fined €25,000 after fatal bus crash
Stay put on payment pending appeal
Judge Margaret Heneghan: said there were no aggravating factors and the company had an otherwise flawless safety record. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
A vehicle-testing firm has been fined €25,000 after being convicted of breaching health and safety laws relating to the testing of a school bus which was involved in a fatal crash.
However a stay was put on payment of the fine by Judge Margaret Heneghan at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court pending an appeal by the testing firm, O’Reilly Commercials Ltd.
The testing firm had failed to note the modified rear suspension on the bus before the crash. This modification had earlier been the subject of a recall. It was agreed by the prosecution that this offence was not the cause of the crash and the company could not be blamed for the fatality.
The bus went out of control on a bog road just outside Clara, Co Offaly, on April 4th, 2006, after the rear drive axle came off. A number of the children travelling to school that morning were injured and Michael White (15) died as a result of his “catastrophic injuries”.
Judge Heneghan imposed the fine after being informed that the company had sufficient means to pay it. She said there were no aggravating factors in the case and that the company had an otherwise flawless safety record.
The judge also noted there was no regime to track vehicle modifications across Europe.
David O’Reilly, for the firm of Ballinalach, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, had pleaded not guilty to four charges of breaching health and safety laws when carrying out an official test on the 1989 Mercedes bus between August 5th and 6th, 2005.
After a 23-day trial, the jury of 10 men and two women deliberated for just under eight hours before returning a verdict of guilty on the first count, which outlined a failure to note the modified rear suspension system.
The company was found not guilty of failing to verify this modified suspension as safe. It was also acquitted of failing to note a missing bolt and failing to take account of a fracture in the chassis.
A bolt missing from the right side of the rear suspension system led to fatigue fractures, ultimately resulting in both sides of the suspension failing and the rear drive axle separating from the 1989 bus.
This airbag-based spring system at the rear of the bus was retro-fitted in the UK in 1991 and was the subject of a safety recall notice in 1991.
In direct evidence Mr O’Reilly said he did not think the system was modified.