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Director called to speak at inquest into employee's death

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A company director has spoken of the lasting impact of a horrific fatal accident in which a pool car known to have faulty tyres crashed and burst into flames, killing two people.

The crash, which happened last July, led to a major police investigation.

As a result, the company was prosecuted for allowing a car with defective tyres to be used by its employees.

It was fined £4,000 in January.

The case highlights the need for consistent and adequate vehicle safety monitoring procedures – especially for pool cars – and especially in light of the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter Act last month.

"Since the introduction of the Act, the police will have to consider whether the actions of the employer resulted in an unlawful killing, explained David Faithful, a solicitor with Lyons Davidson.

“If that is the case, then it is the first step towards a charge of corporate manslaughter."

Last month, the directors of the Buxton-based private care home, Adventure Care, also had to attend an inquest at which they spoke about their company’s fleet management procedures in front of the victims’ families.

Director, Helen Slater, told the inquest at Chesterfield Crown Court: “I accept the tyres were defective and not safe.”

The pool car left the road close to where the firm is based, hit a tree and burst into flames.

In the fireball that followed, care worker Elizabeth Fitton, 23, and 12-year-old Salma El Sharkawy, who was in care at the time, were killed.

Nick Stannage, representing Ms Fitton’s family, asked her: “On a wet day you will have been sending the vehicle out in dangerous conditions and likely to have an accident?”

Ms Slater replied: “I accept that. Not a day goes past that I’m not sorry for that.”

The inquest heard that staff carried out periodic checks on the car. A staff care worker checked the car on May 25, noting on a checklist “tyre depth needs looking at, maybe changing soon, two front tyres”.

Days later, on inspecting the car again, she noted: “Two front tyres bald!!!”

Despite these notes, the tyres were not replaced.

Instead, director Garry Codman, the car’s owner who admitted he had no formal expertise in inspecting tyre depths, ran his fingers over the car tyres, gave the all- clear and suggested the situation be monitored.

Mr Codman said his duties did not include dealing with the vehicles, although the car was registered in his name.

He said: “The only part I played was to check the tyres.

"Just a visual check, I ran my hand over them.

"I can’t remember what I said.

"I thought I said it was ready for changing but I can’t remember.”

Centre manager Lynn Allen said: “I heard there were problems with the tyres.

"I spoke to Garry Codman.

"He said he would go and have a look at them, came upstairs and said: “They are OK, they are on their way and need watching”. We don’t have individual risk assessments other than the checklist.”

Police collision investigator PC Richard Bell said: “It’s not possible to state categorically why the driver of the Peugeot lost control but it’s likely to have been due to a combination of factors: the weather, the road surface, the vehicle conditions, defective front tyres.”

He said the tyre tread was “visibly below the legal limit”.

Ms Slater said staff now use a tyre checker to measure the tread on vehicle tyres.

Coroner Tom Kelly, recorded a narrative verdict that Ms Fitton and Salma died from injuries sustained in the collision.

Ms Fitton’s father, John Fitton, has said he is planning to appeal against a Health and Safety Executive decision not to take action against Adventure Care.

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