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Bus company is fined £2.3m for failing to act on warnings over driver who killed two in crash

Driver Kailash Chander (pictured outside court today) was handed a two-year-supervision order at Birmingham Crown Court today. The bus company that employed him, Midlands Red, was also fined £2.3million for ‘significant’ health and safety failings

The angry family of a seven-year-old boy killed in a bus crash has said bosses should have known the driver ‘was a risk’ after receiving 24 complaint letters about his driving, claiming the incident has ‘destroyed’ their lives.    

Kailash Chander, 80, killed seven-year-old passenger Rowan Fitzgerald and pedestrian Dora Hancox, 76, when the double-decker Midland Red vehicle ploughed into the Sainsbury’s in Coventry. 

Today, the company which operated the bus, Midland Red, was fined £2.3million while Chander was handed a two-year supervision order – avoiding jail. 

It was found to have missed a string of warning signs about Chander, including a history of collisions in which he had been found at fault, numerous complaints, poor performance on telematics data, and specific warnings from the driving school instructor.  

Speaking after the sentencing hearing at Birmingham Crown Court, the family of Rowan Fitzgerald said: ‘It will always be our view that Kailash Chander should have known he posed a risk to other road users.

‘He had been working 75 hour weeks and had received warnings about his driving ability – warnings we feel he chose to ignore with devastating consequences.’

The family, which issued a statement via their lawyers, also went on to describe the pain of their loss.

In it, the family said: ‘The events of the day when Rowan was taken from us still feel as raw today as they did three years ago.

‘There is not a day goes by where our family does not think of Rowan and we are all still struggling to make sense of his death which has left us serving a life sentence of heartache, grief and pain.

‘We will always feel anger over the cruel and unnecessary way Rowan died.

‘Anger at not only the driver, Kailash Chander, but also the bus company, which we feel did not do enough to stop the driver being a danger to others.’                  

Rowan Fitzgerald, seven, was a passenger on the top deck when the bus crashed, killing him

Dora Hancox, 76, was walking at the Sainsbury's when she was hit by the bus

The collision at the Sainsbury’s in Coventry killed passenger Rowan Fitzgerald, seven, (left) and pedestrian Dora Hancox, 76 (right)

Midland Red had pleaded guilty last year to two offences contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act, by allowing Chander to continue working despite warnings about his driving.

The court heard how the company, also known as Stagecoach, continued to employee Kailash Chander, 80, even after several warnings – including 24 complaint letters about his driving.

Addressing the company, the family statement said: ‘We feel Kailash Chander’s employer Midland Red South is equally at fault. The company had a duty to protect all the passengers on the bus that day.

‘Instead the company allowing the driver to get behind the wheel and him not being fit to drive ripped our family apart.

‘We will never forget Rowan. He was the most handsome little boy with a heart of gold.

‘There is not a day goes by where we don’t miss his sweet little face. This has destroyed our lives.

‘It kills us every day knowing we will never get the chance to watch him grow up.

‘We can’t help but think about what Rowan would look like now; what his voice would sound like and what his hobbies and interests would be.

‘It pains us when we realise we will never know.

‘Midland Red South and the driver have robbed us of our beautiful boy who had a great life ahead of him.’    

Rebecca Hearsey, who represented the family of Rowan Fitzgerald, read a statement on their behalf outside Birmingham Crown Court today. The family believes Chander 'chose to ignore warnings about his driving with devastating consequences'

Rebecca Hearsey, who represented the family of Rowan Fitzgerald, read a statement on their behalf outside Birmingham Crown Court today. The family believes Chander ‘chose to ignore warnings about his driving with devastating consequences’

CCTV shows the horrific moment Kailash Chander crashed the bus into a Sainsbury's supermarket in Coventry killing two people

CCTV shows the horrific moment Kailash Chander crashed the bus into a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Coventry killing two people

At the time of the crash Chander made a ‘fundamental and tragically fatal error’ by mistakenly hitting the accelerator of his double decker bus for 11 seconds.

Travelling at up to 20mph, it crashed into the supermarket in Coventry city centre on October 3, 2015.

Medical evidence showed Chander may have been suffering from undiagnosed dementia at the time of the crash.

In a trial of fact, in September, a jury ruled that Chander was driving dangerously when he killed primary school pupil Rowan Fitzgerald and pensioner Dora Hancox.

Two others were seriously injured in the collision.

Chander’s trial heard he had been warned of his ‘erratic’ driving by his employer after four crashes in the previous three years, and a host of customer complaints.

The family of  seven-year-old passenger Rowan Fitzgerald, who was killed in the crash, said in a statement today that Chander (pictured outside court) had chosen to ignore warnings about his driving

The family of  seven-year-old passenger Rowan Fitzgerald, who was killed in the crash, said in a statement today that Chander (pictured outside court) had chosen to ignore warnings about his driving

The firm’s own in-house assessor was called in six months before the crash, and Chander tested at the company driving school, with a recommendation he should not work long hours as a relief driver.

Sentencing at Birmingham Crown Court today, the judge said the assessor’s recommendation ‘was not enforced and almost immediately ignored’, by managers at the Leamington Spa depot where he was based.

Judge Paul Farrer QC said the company ‘failed to follow policy’ in the run-up to the fatal crash.

In the week prior to the incident, Chander had worked 75 hours and the day of the incident was his sixth consecutive working day.

The driving assessment suggested Chander ‘may have been capable of driving to the satisfactory standard, if properly rested’ and that depot bosses were made aware of that fact.

The judge said: ‘Notwithstanding that knowledge, the recommendation of their own in-house driving school was ignored, and Mr Chander was permitted to work hours which would have been challenging for a man 20 year his junior.

‘For the avoidance of doubt, having heard the evidence I have no doubt that the failure to give effect to the recommendation was not inadvertent.

‘Instead, it was deliberately disregarded because of staff shortages.’

The judge added: ‘The failings of the company were a significant cause of the events of October 3, 2015.’

He said: ‘Over the course of a six-month period, Mr Chander was driving a bus in circumstances where he was permitted to drive while fatigued, inevitably involving a high risk of death or serious injury to the public or Mr Chander himself.’

Phil Medlicott (pictured), managing director of Midlands Red, reads out a statement outside Birmingham Crown Court after the company pleaded guilty to breaches in their Health and Safety at work

The driver involved in the crash, Kailash Chander (pictured), avoided jail and was handed a two-year-supervision order

Phil Medlicott (left), managing director of Midlands Red, reads out a statement outside Birmingham Crown Court after the company pleaded guilty to breaches in their Health and Safety at work. The driver involved in the crash, Kailash Chander (pictured right outside court yesterday), avoided jail and was handed a two-year-supervision order

Following the case, Midlands Red company director Phil Medlicott read a lengthy statement outside court during which he apologised for the ‘heartache’ caused.

He said: ‘We are deeply sorry for the heartache of everyone affected, particularly the families of Rowan Fitzgerald and Dora Hancox.

‘Safety is and always will be our first concern, and we take our responsibilities extremely seriously.

‘We have made it our continuing priority to work very closely with the authorities to help fully understand and learn detailed lessons from what has happened.

‘We know and fully accept that there were a number of failings at our company and we bear the weight of our responsibility for this terrible tragedy.

‘That’s why we made early guilty pleas.’

Mr Medlicott also noted how policies were not followed as closely as they should have been.

He said: ‘There were failures at an operational level in driver supervision and we deeply regret the opportunities that were missed to act decisively on emerging warning signs.

‘Following the accident, our priority has been to put these matters right.

‘I am a former bus driver myself and I believe this case also has important lessons for the wider bus industry, as well as for those responsible for drafting and applying employment law.

‘In particular, we support a review of how current age discrimination law impacts specific roles with key safety considerations.

‘This includes whether there should be a statutory maximum legal age limit for drivers of buses and other heavy vehicles.’ 

Birmingham Crown Court heard concerns had been raised about Chander by a driving school during an inspection of his skills months before the crash, pictured

Birmingham Crown Court heard concerns had been raised about Chander by a driving school during an inspection of his skills months before the crash, pictured

Chander has since been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and the collision, pictured, occurred because he mistook the accelerator for the brake

Chander has since been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the collision, pictured, occurred because he mistook the accelerator for the brake

Yesterday Birmingham Crown Court heard the employer was told by one of its managers Chander was ‘not safe’ and should have his contract ended.

The former mayor and councillor, who has since been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, lost control of a bus when he mistook the accelerator for the brake. 

The court also heard the firm had failed to follow its own procedures by not monitoring his working hours, with the driver at the wheel for three consecutive 75-hour weeks prior to the crash.

Family of seven-year-old passenger Rowan Fitzgerald produce heartbreaking victim impact statements

Rowan’s grandmother, Barbra Fitzgerald said: ‘He was a beautiful, friendly little boy with a cheeky smile and a mischievous nature.

‘He loved sport and wanted to play football and basketball – he wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

‘He loved music and dancing – he would dance all the time.

‘On the day of the incident we were returning from out holiday and received a called from Natasha.

‘It became apparent fairly soon that this was a bad crash and something dreadful had happened.

‘After reaching A&E, Natasha told us Rowan had died.

‘After many hours of anguish Rowan was finally brought to the hospital and we were able to see him.

‘All of our lives were turned upside down as a result of this accident.’

Rowan's  (pictured) family said 'every cell in their bodies aches from grief' since his death

Rowan’s  (pictured) family said ‘every cell in their bodies aches from grief’ since his death

Rowan’s mother, Natasha Wilson said: ‘Rowan was our second son.

‘He had a heart of gold and was our sunshine on hard days. He made life full of laughter.

‘I remember being told at 7.40 on that evening that Rowan had died. I thought he was just a child.

‘My head went into overdrive – I thought how has this happened to us – our sweet child.

‘I can’t take the pain. Every cell in our bodies ache.

‘Sometimes we feel we will explode from our grief.

‘We never knew the meaning of heartbreak until this.’

Paige Wilson, Rowan’s cousin who was on the bus at time said: ‘I wish I had never got on that bus otherwise Rowan would still be here.

‘I get sad and cuddle a pillow my mum got me with mine and Rowan’s picture on in happier times.

‘I miss my cousin – he made me happy. He was my best friend.

‘I won’t go on a bus ever again.’

He had been referred to a driving school seven months earlier who had raised concerns about his capability.

But the court heard Midland had breached its own policies by failing to refer him to the school earlier. 

The crash occurred when the bus began pulling away from a stop at the supermarket, only to collide with a single decker bus in front of it.

The vehicle then veered across the road and mounted the kerb, narrowly missing three people, before careering into the shop front.  

Rowan had been sitting in the front seat of the top deck, while Ms Hancox was struck by the vehicle. 

The previous trial heard Chander had a string of near misses before the crash but was still allowed to drive the bus.

Between 2012 and October 3, 2015, he struck a piece of street furniture, reversed into another bus at the depot, caused a rear end collision with a car, and struck a gate as he was returning to the depot.

Yesterday, prosecutor Andrew Thomas QC said the Midlands Red had failed to follow it’s own procedures.

He said: ‘By this stage they [Midland Red] knew Chander’s age, a history of collisions in which he had been found at fault, a history of complaints and poor performance on telematics data, and specific warnings from the driving school instructor.

‘But Kailash Chander’s working pattern continues unabated after the visit from the driving school.

‘In some of the following weeks he worked workloads of 52 hour, 59 hours, 55 hours and 55 hours.

‘Midlands Red had a duty that it’s drivers were fit and capable of undertaking their duties.

‘Midlands Red failed to address the problem of his deteriorating capability and risk of fatigue.

‘They didn’t put into place their own procedures or properly monitor his hours that he was driving.’

He added: ‘Just 48 hours before the collision, one manager warned Chander was not safe and they should consider ending his contract altogether.

‘Mr Chander’s capabilities had deteriorated and were exacerbated by fatigue.

‘They failed to address the risk from Mr Chander’s poor driving.

‘Their failure to refer him to the driving school before 2015 was a breach of the firm’s own written polices.

‘The public were put at risk as Mr Chander was allowed to drive long hours without restriction.

‘Rowan was killed as a result of the canopy colliding with the front of the bus. His cousin, Paige, was seriously injured too.’

The family of seven-year-old victim Rowan Fitzgerald had their statements read out by prosecutor.

Rowan’s grandmother, Barbra Fitzgerald said: ‘He was a beautiful, friendly little boy with a cheeky smile and a mischievous nature.

‘He loved sport and wanted to play football and basketball – he wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

‘He loved music and dancing – he would dance all the time.

‘On the day of the incident we were returning from out holiday and recieved a called from Natasha.

Chander (pictured at a previous hearing) was deemed unfit to stand trial but found guilty of dangerous driving at a trial of facts

Chander (pictured at a previous hearing) was deemed unfit to stand trial but found guilty of dangerous driving at a trial of facts

‘It became apparent fairly soon that this was a bad crash and something dreadful had happened.

‘After reaching A&E, Natasha told us Rowan had died.

‘After many hours of anguish Rowan was finally brought to the hospital and we were able to see him.

‘All of our lives were turned upside down as a result of this accident.’

Rowan’s mother, Natasha Wilson said: ‘Rowan was our second son.

‘He had a heart of gold and was our sunshine on hard days. He made life full of laughter.

‘I remember being told at 7.40 on that evening that Rowan had died. I thought he was just a child.

‘My head went into overdrive – I thought how has this happened to us – our sweet child.

‘I can’t take the pain. Every cell in our bodies ache. Sometimes we feel we will explode from our grief.

‘We never knew the meaning of heartbreak until this.’

Paige Wilson, Rowan’s cousin who was on the bus at time said: ‘I wish I had never got on that bus otherwise Rowan would still be here.

‘I get sad and cuddle a pillow my mum got me with mine and Rowan’s picture on in happier times.

Chander (pictured) was previously the mayor of Leamington Spa and a councillor

Chander (pictured) was previously the mayor of Leamington Spa and a councillor

‘I miss my cousin – he made me happy. He was my best friend. I won’t go on a bus ever again.’ 

Chander appeared at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday but had his sentencing adjourned until today.

Midlands Red directors Jim Mortimer and Phil Medicot were also in attendance at court after the firm admitted two offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act. 

They will also be sentenced tomorrow.

Robert Smith, defending Chander, said the defendant was of exemplary character and had a strong work ethic.

He said: ‘Since arriving from the Punjab in the early 1960s, he has been a well-known figure in his local community.

‘He has been very well respected and served as a councillor for Leamington Spa for many years, and provided voluntary work to a local school.

‘His character has been exemplary. He has a strong work ethic and didn’t need to work the hours for financial reasons.

‘He suffers from dementia – which is a progressive illness. A supervision order is the most suitable option – he would be under the supervision of medical staff and social services.’

Richard Atkins, representing Midlands Red, apologised on behalf of the company to the family and friends of Rowan and Dora.

When Chander had arrived at the scheduled bus stop he had left the bus (pictured) in gear

When Chander had arrived at the scheduled bus stop he had left the bus (pictured) in gear

Mr Thomas said Chander did not apply the brakes until 'some seconds' after the bus had crashed into the Sainsbury's store, damaging the upper deck, and come to a halt.

Mr Thomas said Chander did not apply the brakes until 'some seconds' after the bus had crashed into the Sainsbury's store, damaging the upper deck, and come to a halt.

The Stagecoach bus is pictured after it ploughed into the Sainsbury’s supermarket in Coventry

He said: ‘I firstly would like to offer the apologies, condolences and deepest sympathies of directors at the company to the family and friends of Rowan Fitzgerald and Dora Hancox and those injured in the bus crash.

‘The directors have offered their apologies for our failings and that although we can’t turn back the clocks the company has now done everything it can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

‘The company has not sought to hide and has endeavoured to learn.

‘Mr Chander is a valued employee and has been so for many years and he had been subjected to all statutory checks to ensure he was fit to drive.

‘The firm has now reconsidered it’s employment of older drivers.

‘Midlands Red’s management of poor driving was generally very good.

‘We did not ignore the complaints and incidents as they were investigated.

‘It wasn’t case of people complaining and being pushed aside.

‘However, with hindsight some of the actions taken would have been done so differently.

Midland Red was sentenced today after admitting health and safety breaches. The bus it operated is pictured here following the crash

Midland Red was sentenced today after admitting health and safety breaches. The bus it operated is pictured here following the crash

‘The firm accepts Mr Chander was working too many hours but there is a difference between paid hours and hours behind the wheel of a bus.

‘Midlands Red has a good health and safety record with no previous convictions.

‘The company carries 67,000 passengers a day, 25 million a year and covers 20 million miles.

‘Midlands Red has offered to help Paige Wilson following the trauma caused by the crash.

‘She has been offered the chance to sit on buses in a controlled environment but hasn’t been fully taken up yet. The offer remains there and will forever.

‘The company has made changes so that if any driver is given a recommendation not to work too many hours – that message is relayed to local managers, operation directors and managing directors.

‘This is so people at the top of the organisation know. Drivers have been given extra training with regards to pedal placement error.

‘Any driver aged 70 or over will receive a medical check every six months.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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