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.
By Declan Brennan
The bus went out of control on a bog road just outside Clara, Co Offaly on April 4, 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, acting on behalf of vehicle testing firm O’Reilly Commercials Ltd of 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 between August 5 and 6, 2005.
The charges, brought under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, alleged that the firm had failed to ensure that persons 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 of ten 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.
In direct evidence Mr O’Reilly said he didn’t think the rear suspension system was modified. This air bag based spring system was retro-fitted to the bus in the UK 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 of 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 Commercial Ltd to next month when a sentence date will be fixed.