A vehicle-testing firm has being found guilty of breaching health and safety laws in relation to the testing of a school bus which was later involved in a fatal crash.
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. Schoolboy Michael White (15) died as a result of "catastrophic injuries" suffered during the crash.
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 Mercedes bus.
David O’Reilly, on behalf of vehicle-testing firm O’Reilly Commercials Ltd, Ballinalach, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four charges of breaching health and safety laws when carrying out an official test on the bus on August 5th and 6th, 2005.
The charges, brought under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, alleged the firm had failed to ensure that people were not exposed to risks to their safety or health as a result of the way the test was carried out.
After a 23-day trial, the jury 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.
In direct evidence Mr O’Reilly said he did not think the rear suspension system was modified. This air bag-based spring system was retro-fitted to the bus in Britain in 1991 and was the subject of a safety recall notice in 1991.
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.
Raymond McKeown, River Street, Clara, Co Offaly, who bought the bus in September 2005, previously pleaded guilty to failing to maintain the bus under health and safety laws. He will be sentenced next month.
Judge Margaret Heneghan adjourned the case of O’Reilly Commercials to April when a sentence date will be fixed.
In direct evidence, Mr O’Reilly said that the bolt was present in September 2005 and that he had no safety concerns about the bus when he gave it a certificate of roadworthiness.
In 1996, the spring system retro-fitted to the bus was the subject of a safety recall notice in Britain after it emerged that the rear spring had failed in a number of buses, potentially as a result of vehicles going over speed bumps at speed.
The bus was later imported to Ireland. The previous owner James Gaffey told the court that in 2003, he replaced a damaged rear spring with a secondhand one. Mr Gaffey brought the bus to O’Reilly Commercials in 2005 to have it tested for an official roadworthiness certificate. He sold it to Mr McKeown in September 2005.
Banging and rattling
A large number of schoolchildren told the trial that the bus was in bad condition and they described banging and rattling as it travelled over bumps in the road.
One witness said the bus was leaning to one side on the morning of the crash. Kayleigh Murray said that on the previous afternoon she had heard a bang as the bus went over a bumpy part of the road. “The bus was in shite. The bus was fairly broken down. I’m not a mechanic but it was tilting to one side”.
Another said he heard a loud bang and saw the driver smashing into the door of the bus.
Mr O’Reilly said he stood over the tests he carried out on the bus in 2005.