Ballygowan man has charge dismissed at court in relation to tanker becoming unhitched from tractor and colliding with bus near Newtownards

Ballygowan man has charge dismissed at court in relation to tanker becoming unhitched from tractor and colliding with bus near Newtownards

A BALLYGOWAN man has had a charge of causing grievous bodily injury to a bus driver by careless driving dismissed at Newtownards Magistrates Court.

Christopher Roy Gould (32), of Forge Drive, had been charged in relation to Belfast Road, Newtownards, on July 16, 2018, when a tanker trailer became separated from a tractor and collided with a bus.

The court heard the bus driver had to be cut from the vehicle by the emergency services.

Media reports at the time said eleven people were treated in hospital.

The defendant had contested the charge.

District Judge Mark Hamill said it was a "contest on the papers".

The judge said the tanker had not contained 'baffles' which meant there was potential for the contents to slosh about.

Judge Hamill said it was a "pretty spectacular road traffic accident".

A prosecutor said the tanker trailer became unhitched and submitted it was the driver's responsibility to ensure that the trailer was "properly hitched and should not become unhitched".

He said any individual driving a tractor had a "duty of care to other road users".

Judge Hamill said the defendant was an employee and was told to drive the tractor and trailer, "already hitched up," and was not asked to fill or empty the tanker.

The prosecutor said their case was that the tractor was going round a bend "too fast in the circumstances" when the tanker unhitched and "slid across the road, collided with a bus" causing injuries to the bus driver "who had to be cut" from the vehicle.

A defence lawyer said it "appeared just to have been an accident" and added: "Sometimes an accident is just an accident".

Judge Hamill said it was a "classic example of a case for the Civil Courts".

He added: "This defendant was employed to drive the tractor and trailer from point A to point B. He is told to go and pick up this tractor and this trailer and move from A to B, that's his employment.

"He has no control over the hitching of the trailer; no control over the filling or emptying of the tanker, he is told as an employee, drive that from A to B.

"So he arrived at the scene. He says he inspected the tractor and trailer to a cursory glance. Noting again it is not his property. Noting again he didn't load the trailer with water; he didn't hitch the trailer to the tractor; he didn't use the unit earlier, when, crucially, some of the water in the trailer was used up, leaving the tanker only partially full.

"This is where the laws of physics come in. Unbeknownst to the defendant, the tanker wasn't fitted with baffle plates. This is what this case is all about. Baffle plates would have prevented liquid in the partially filled tanker from sloshing from side to side as the tanker was pulled round a bend on a country road.

"So the crucial element in this case is the absence of baffle plates in this tanker. He had no control over the fitting or non-fitting of battle plates. He had no control in the amount of liquid in this tanker".

The judge said defendant said he was driving at a "reasonable speed".

Judge Hamill added: "Was his speed reasonable? Can you criticise the speed he was driving at? He was less than 30mph as he rounded a bend. Because the tanker was only partially full; because it wasn't fitted with baffle plates; the weight of the water sloshing from side to side caused the tanker to tip over on its side, decoupling from the tractor and onto the road and into the path of an oncoming bus."

The judge added: "You can't convince me he was driving too fast. He has no control over the water in the tanker; no control over the baffle plates; he has no conception of the laws of physics that make it just the wrong amount of water for this particular bend at this particular speed; having driven this road multiple times".

Judge Hamill said the prosecution was a "counsel of perfection" and continued: "It is the seeking for someone to blame for an accident. Sometimes accidents happen and it really is a bit much to try to pin criminal blame on this accused. Was he driving too fast? Hard to say, you certainly can't convince me beyond reasonable doubt, the case is dismissed".