Council is fined £300,000 over pupil’s death
Schoolboy died after minibus collision:
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’s mum Melanie