A vehicle testing firm found guilty of breaching health and safety laws in the testing of a school bus subsequently involved in a fatal crash has brought an appeal against conviction.
The bus went out of control near Clara, Co Offaly, on April 4, 2006. Michael White, 15, died as a result of injuries sustained.
O’Reilly Commercials Limited, of Ballinalack, 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, had alleged the firm failed to ensure persons were not exposed to risks to their safety or health as a result of the way the test was carried out.
A Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury deliberated for just under eight hours following a 23-day trial before returning a verdict of guilty on the first count which outlined a failure to note the modified rear suspension system. Verdicts of not guilty were returned on three other counts.
The company was fined €25,000 by Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan on July 29, 2013.
Opening an appeal against conviction today, counsel for O'Reilly Commercials, Seán Gillane SC, said the background to the case involved a “tragic accident” and the the death of a young school boy. That fact was not lost on the company, he said.
The court heard that the bus was carrying more than 30 students on a school run. It was a Mercedes vehicle originally registered in the UK. It had what was called “leaf spring” suspension on the rear axel but in or around 1991, this was modified or converted in the UK in the knowledge of British regulatory authorities.
Thereafter, the bus was registered in Ireland in 2001.
Mr Gillane said O'Reilly Commercials, who was the authorised tester, had a very good reputation in the testing business.
Central to the defence's case, Mr Gillane said, was that no pass was issued in August 2005.
He said the test was carried out on September 1, 2005 not in August and as a consequence, the 1989 Act did not apply. By the time the test had been carried out, that Act had been repealed, he submitted.
As such, no offence known to law was contained on the indictment, he submitted.
On the defence's case, Mr Gillane said a visual inspection was carried out in August. In the course of that, an internal document or checklist was generated of things that needed to be looked at ahead of the actual test.
Mr Gillane said it was akin to presenting your car for a pre-test at the same centre you get the test.
He said a witness from the Department of Environment indicated that this sort of thing shouldn't happen but it was “a feature of life” that it did.
Mr Gillane submitted a number of other grounds related to rulings by the trial judge and the proffering of an opinion by a witness which “went further than ought to have been allowed”.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Caroline Biggs SC, said the test took place on August 6 and the retest was on September 1.
Ms Biggs said that statement was made by the principle of O'Reilly Commercials to an inspector. It came “from the horse's mouth”, she said, and was evidence on the face of it that the first stage of the test was carried out in August.
She said the date on which the test was carried out was a question of fact for resolution by the jury.
The jury knew the significance of the date, Ms Biggs said. It had been explained to the jury throughout.
It must be inferred from the verdict of the jury that the test was performed before September 1st, Ms Biggs submitted.
Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice John Hedigan, said the court would reserve judgment.