Coun­cil is fined £300,000 over pupil’s death

School­boy died after minibus col­li­sion:

Glamorgan Gazette - - Front Page - PHILIP DEWEY philip.dewey@waleson­line.co.uk

A COUN­CIL has been fined £300,000 after a school­boy was killed when he was hit by a minibus on school grounds.

Fif­teen-year-old Ash­ley Tal­bot died when he was hit by a school minibus on December 10, 2014, at Maesteg Com­pre­hen­sive School in Brid­gend.

Ash­ley, de­scribed as a lov­ing son and brother who loved play­ing chess and board games, suf­fered mul­ti­ple in­juries and was pro­nounced dead at the scene.

An­other child, who can­not be named for le­gal rea­sons, was also in­volved in the in­ci­dent. The ex­tent of their in­juries is un­known but be­lieved to be mi­nor.

The driver of the bus, PE teacher Christo­pher Brooks, was un­able to avoid Ash­ley after he ran into the road to catch his school bus home.

No po­lice ac­tion was taken against Mr Brooks after an in­quest ruled that Ash­ley’s death was ac­ci­den­tal.

Brid­gend coun­cil was told it would be pros­e­cuted by the Health and Safety Ex­ec­u­tive (HSE), in re­la­tion to Ash­ley’s death.

The lo­cal author­ity pleaded guilty to be­ing an em­ployer which failed to dis­charge general health and safety duty to per­sons other than em­ploy­ees.

The hear­ing at Cardiff Crown Court yes­ter­day was told that Ash­ley’s death could have been avoided.

Brid­gend coun­cil was fined a to­tal of £300,000 and or­dered to pay £29,228 and in court costs.

The Recorder of Cardiff, Judge Eleri Rees, of­fered Ash­ley’s par­ents the court’s sin­cere con­do­lences whom she de­scribed as suf­fer­ing an “ap­palling loss”.

She said: “This was a tragic event which shocked all those present, chil­dren and staff at the school and the wider com­mu­nity.

“Need­less to say, Ash­ley’s death was dev­as­tat­ing for his fam­ily. I have read the vic­tim per­sonal state­ment from Ash­ley’s par­ents and they set out in the most mov­ing of terms there pain and grief.

“The fact the death could have been avoided had safety mea­sures been in place would have made it hard to bear.

“Any sen­tence passed at this hear­ing can­not at­tempt to mit­i­gate the loss of a pre­cious and price­less life or ad­dress what the fam­ily has suf­fered and con­tin­ues to en­dure.”

The court heard de­tails of the crash which led to Ash­ley’s death.

Pros­e­cu­tor Si­mon Mor­gan said: “A bus driver de­scribed how he would park his bus be­hind the first bus and there were two buses on ei­ther side of the road. An­other driver be­came aware of two boys run­ning past his left be­tween the gaps in the buses and into the road, de­scrib­ing their speed as a sprint. He saw a school minibus ap­proach­ing from the right. He heard a loud thud and when he looked he recog­nised the driver of the mini bus as a teacher.

“Some­one shouted ‘he’s been hit’ and he saw Ash­ley un­der­neath the school minibus. He tried talk­ing to Ash­ley but he didn’t get a re­sponse. They did all they could.”

The court heard con­cerns were raised be­fore the school was opened re­gard­ing risks to pedes­tri­ans from mov­ing ve­hi­cles.

The school was a new build which opened in Septem­ber 2008, the date the pros­e­cu­tion say the breach of health and safety reg­u­la­tions be­gan.

Mr Mor­gan said the de­sign of the school’s traf­fic ar­range­ments, in­clud­ing park­ing, bus bays, drop-off points and walk­ways, needed to be costed early and done right first time as chang­ing it ret­ro­spec­tively would be ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult to im­ple­ment.

The pros­e­cu­tor said: “This wasn’t achieved at the de­sign stage, was not rec­ti­fied and not mon­i­tored through­out the process.”

The pros­e­cu­tion’s case is that there was a huge amount of guid­ance avail­able to the de­fen­dant and they failed to com­ply.

The court heard that prin­ci­pal health and safety ad­viser at Brid­gend coun­cil Steven Nel­son vis­ited the school while it was at an ad­vanced con­struc­tion stage.

He raised a num­ber of con­cerns with the pro­ject man­ager Christo­pher Davies that the de­sign of the car park and the bus bays ap­peared to “not be as safe as they could be”.

One of the is­sues was the pro­vi­sion of only five bus bays de­spite eight buses be­ing con­tracted by the school.

Other is­sues in­cluded pro­vi­sions for drop-offs, walk ways, nar­row gates and park­ing on the road.

Mr Nel­son sug­gested a num­ber of op­tions to im­prove risk con­trol meas- ure­ments, but was told by Mr Davies that it was “un­likely” any changes to the high­way would be made at the late stage of the con­struc­tion pro­ject.

The so­lu­tion was for the sur­plus buses to park on the other side of the road to the bus bays but traf­fic would be al­lowed to pass be­tween them.

Mr Mor­gan said: “The plan showed no pro­vi­sion on the other side of the road, which in­di­cates a re­quire­ment for chil­dren to cross the road­way be­tween parked buses to gain ac­cess to the other buses at the end of the school day.

“At this stage, Mr Nel­son had iden­ti­fied the risk which was un­for­tu­nately re­alised in Septem­ber 2014.

“As well as the is­sues in­side the school, there were prob­lems out­side the school gates with the amount of traf­fic. At one stage it was con­sid­ered to lock down the school dur­ing the load­ing of buses but it was be­lieved the vol­ume of traf­fic would make it im­pos­si­ble to pre­vent ve­hi­cles com­ing in and out of the school.”

Mr Mor­gan said: “The de­fen­dant failed to ad­dress the global is­sues cre­ated in and out­side of the school which pre­sented a risk to chil­dren at the end of the school day. This could have been de­signed out.

“But de­spite re­peated con­cerns, Mr Nel­son was ad­vised that the school was ‘built now’ and it was too late to make changes.”

After the school opened in Septem­ber 2008, the use of the bus bays by pedes­tri­ans was re­viewed on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and ap­peared to be “work­ing sat­is­fac­to­rily” with the risks deemed “tol­er­a­ble”.

But is­sues re­gard­ing the in­suf­fi­cient space for the eight con­tracted buses to park con­tin­ued to be raised, as three of the buses were not given per­ma­nent park­ing bays.

After Mr Nel­son was made re­dun­dant by the coun­cil in 2011, con­cerns were fur­ther ex­pressed about the lack of space for buses at the school but these con­cerns were not acted upon.

Mr Mor­gan said: “The pros­e­cu­tion’s case is that this es­tab­lishes a com­plete fail­ure of com­mu­ni­ca­tion on health and safety is­sues and that re­sulted in a missed op­por­tu­nity.

“In 2012, an­other risk as­sess­ment iden­ti­fied in­creased risk after an ad­di­tional num­ber of buses had been al­lo­cated to the school run, with an in­creased num­ber of buses park­ing op­po­site the bays.”

An­other re­view was car­ried out in May 2014, but traf­fic man­age­ment at the end of the school day was not ob­served by the of­fi­cer com­pil­ing the re­port.

Mr Mor­gan said: “The de­fen­dant should have been sure of­fi­cers fol­lowed up in­quiries to en­sure safety of the chil­dren.

“The school was left with this lo­gis­ti­cal sit­u­a­tion due to the de­ci­sions made by the de­fen­dant prior to the school open­ing.

“The pros­e­cu­tion say that school per­son­nel were not pro­vided with ap­pro­pri­ate sup­port and there was no proac­tive man­age­ment by the de­fen­dant.”

The court also heard about a num­ber of un­re­ported in­ci­dents in the runup to Ash­ley’s death, which were char­ac­terised as “near misses”.

Three weeks be­fore Ash­ley’s death, a pupil ran out be­tween two parked buses caus­ing a school mini-bus to break harshly to avoid a col­li­sion.

On an­other oc­ca­sion, two pupils ran out into the path of a minibus but it man­aged to stop in time.

A bus driver de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as a “free for all” and “an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen” with chil- dren run­ning to buses and the rugby fields op­po­site the bus bays.

Mr Mor­gan said: “The pros­e­cu­tion sub­mit to the court this in­ci­dent could have been prevented had the coun­cil fol­lowed pro­ce­dural mea­sures to min­imise the risks posed by traf­fic.”

He added: “The de­fen­dant was re­spon­si­ble for the de­sign of the school and the school were left to work with what they had. The de­sign was the fun­da­men­tal flaw in this case.”

Fol­low­ing Ash­ley’s death, the coun­cil im­ple­mented bar­ri­ers, a school lock­down, im­proved sig­nage and an ex­tended bus lane at Maesteg Com­pre­hen­sive School.

They later built an­other bus lay-by, at a cost of around £30,000.

De­fence bar­ris­ter An­thony Vines said the coun­cil wished to record its “deep re­gret” for the cir­cum­stances which re­sulted in Ash­ley’s death and the in­jury to the other child.

He said: “The coun­cil is aware of the ef­fects of this event on the fam­i­lies of the two chil­dren and oth­ers af­fected in the com­mu­nity.

“The coun­cil have ad­mit­ted re­spon­si­bil­ity for this mat­ter by plead­ing guilty at the first op­por­tu­nity and the court’s role is to im­pose a fi­nan­cial penalty.”

Mr Vines said that fol­low- ing Ash­ley’s death, there was a re­view of the coun­cil’s be­hav­iour in re­spect of pedes­trian and ve­hi­cle move­ment and an ob­ser­va­tion pro­gramme was de­vel­oped to check com­pli­ance of all schools and premises un­der coun­cil own­er­ship.

He said the coun­cil had re­viewed risks at 100 sites and in­struc­tions were made to en­sure all ve­hi­cle risk as­sess­ments were com­pleted.

Where is­sues were iden­ti­fied, they were fol­lowed up. He said the coun­cil had also con­ducted a thor­ough health and safety au­dit pro­gramme, which re­mains on­go­ing, and had made pro­vi­sions for a dig­i­tal re­source for var­i­ous premises pro­vid­ing ad­vice on risk as­sess­ment and health and safety.

Speak­ing out­side court after the hear­ing, the fam­ily’s so­lic­i­tor Gra­ham Balm­forth said: “The fam­ily are sat­is­fied with the out­come of the HSE pros­e­cu­tion and the sen­tenc­ing im­posed by Cardiff Crown Court. They would, how­ever, re­mind the re­spon­si­ble of­fi­cials of the lo­cal author­ity that in spite of the years of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the HSE, the coro­ner and the po­lice, there has still not been any apol­ogy to the fam­ily for the death of their only son. It would ap­pear that it is eas­ier for those who hold of­fice to pay a fine rather to act with hu­man de­cency.”

Brid­gend coun­cil’s cor­po­rate di­rec­tor for ed­u­ca­tion and fam­ily sup­port, Lindsay Har­vey, said: “We deeply re­gret the tragic cir­cum­stances that re­sulted in the death of Ash­ley Tal­bot.

“We ac­knowl­edge that we should have done more to en­sure that pupils at Maesteg School were safe from the risk posed by mov­ing ve­hi­cles when they ap­proached buses at the end of the school day.

“Fol­low­ing that hor­rific day in December 2014, we have in­tro­duced an ex­ten­sive range of safety im­prove­ments both in­side and out­side Maesteg School to pro­vide bet­ter seg­re­ga­tion be­tween ve­hi­cles and pedes­tri­ans.

“We also con­ducted a full au­dit of safety ar­range­ments at all of our schools in the im­me­di­ate after­math of the in­ci­dent. We con­tinue to re­view those safety ar­range­ments on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to keep all school chil­dren as safe as pos­si­ble.

“We will give full con­sid­er­a­tion to the Tal­bot fam­ily’s pro­posal for ‘Ash­ley’s Law’ on school premises, and our thoughts re­main with Ash­ley’s fam­ily, friends and every­one who was af­fected by this tragic in­ci­dent.”

Ash­ley Tal­bot

PETER BOLTER

Ash­ley Tal­bot’s mum Me­lanie

Ash­ley Tal­bot

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