Fatal Clara bus crash trial continues

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A health and safety inspector investigating a fatal school bus crash has told a court on Tuesday that he never questioned a mechanic about cracks in a back spring or a “missing bolt”.

A health and safety inspector investigating a fatal school bus crash has told a court on Tuesday that he never questioned a mechanic about cracks in a back spring or a “missing bolt”.

By Declan Brennan

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The bus crashed on a bog road just outside Clara, Co Offaly on April 4, 2006 when the back axle came away and the bus flipped over. School boy Michael White (15) died as a result of the accident.

The owners of Clara Cabs, Raymond and Ruairi McKeown, both of River Street, Clara have pleaded not guilty to six counts with failing to maintain the 1989 Mercedes bus, two of which relate to the death of the school boy on April 4, 2006.

David O’Reilly, acting on behalf of O’Reilly Commercials Ltd of Ballinalach, Mullingar, Co Westmeath has pleaded not guilty to four charges relating to failing to note or verify defects when they tested the bus between August 5 and 6, 2005.

On day five of the trial John Sheeran, an Inspector with the Health and Safety Authority, told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that David Fox was the only mechanic who had carried out repair work on the bus between 2003 and 2005.

In 2003 Mr Fox replaced the rear right spring with a second hand spring sourced by the former owner James Gaffey. In August 2005 Mr Gaffey presented the bus to David O’Reilly for a roadworthiness test and was provided with a “snag list”.

The former owner sold the bus to the McKeowns shortly after receiving a certificate of road worthiness from O’Reilly Commercials Ltd in September 2005.

Insp Sheeran said that Mr Fox told him that he had carried out repairs on the bus in August 2005 according to the snag list. He said Mr Fox said he couldn’t remember if the rear suspension in the van had been modified.

Kenneth Fogarty SC, defending Raymond McKeown asked the inspector: “Did you ask him the crunch question, did he observe that there were cracks in the spring in August 2005?” The witness said that this wasn’t why he was questioning Mr Fox.

Counsel later asked: “You didn’t ask him did he see there were no bolts holding this thing? Is that a shame?”

Mr Sheeran replied: “I carried out the investigation as thorough as I could”. He added that there will be technical evidence to show the bolt was missing for a year before the fatal crash.

Counsel put it to the inspector that what Mr Fox had to say about the condition of the suspension system in August 2005 was of crucial importance to Raymond McKeown.

The jury have already heard that Mr McKeown told gardai that he found no defects or modifications when he issued a road worthiness certificate for the bus just over seven months before the bus crashed.

The trial continues before Judge Margaret Heneghan and a jury of ten men and two women.