AN 80-year-old bus driver who killed two people when he ploughed his double-decker into a supermarket has been spared jail – and his company Midland Red fined £2.3million.
Former Leamingon mayor Kailash Chander mistook the accelerator for the brake and smashed into a Sainsbury’s in Coventry city centre on October 3, 2015.
A court heard he lost control of the Midland Red bus after working 75-hour weeks and 24 warning letters about his poor standard of driving had been ignored.
Passenger Rowan Fitzgerald, aged seven, and pedestrian Dora Hancox, 76, were both killed while two more were seriously injured.
The terrifying incident was captured on CCTV which was released by police after Chander was found to have caused death by dangerous driving in September.
He was declared unfit to stand trial due to post-traumatic stress disorder and frontal lobe dementia but was convicted following a ‘finding of facts’ trial.
Today Chander, of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, was given a two-year supervision order at Birmingham Crown Court in his absence due to ill health.
Midland Red pleaded guilty last year to offences contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £2.3million for its ‘significant’ failings.
Sentencing, Judge Paul Farrer QC said: “The culpability of Midlands Red lies in the background of this case.
“Mr Chander should not have been working excessive hours as his ability of driving seemed to be get worse when he was fatigued.
“They were dealing with a 76-year-old relief driver with evidence that his driving was deteriorating.
“Depot managers did not pass on any warnings about his capabilities or the need to avoid working excess hours.
“He worked an average of 72 hours per week and there were further complaints about his driving from passengers.
“Despite this nothing of substance was done by Midlands Red.
“On the day of the fatal crash, Chander was seen by another driver who commented he looked ‘knackered’.
“He became confused by the controls of the bus and instead of pressing the break he pressed the accelerator.
“This was a fatal error. He was trying to steer the bus but he had plainly lost control.
“The (supervision) order includes conditions of Chander being under a social worker and a psychiatrist for the entire time.
“The order will allow Chander to be treated and provide assistance to his daughter who is likely to become his long-term carer.”
The court heard how Chander, who was 77 at the time, had been warned about his “erratic” driving by the bus company after four crashes in the previous three years.
The fatal smash occurred when the bus began pulling away from a stop at the supermarket before colliding with a single decker in front of it.
The vehicle then veered across the road and mounted the kerb, narrowly missing three people, before careering into the shop front.
Rowan had been sitting in the front seat of the top deck as he travelled back from a football match with his grandad and cousin and was crushed by the shop’s canopy.
Ms Hancox died after being struck by the vehicle as well as a falling lamppost as she walked past a cash machine at the supermarket.
The Stockport-based firm, also known as Stagecoach, had failed to follow its own procedures by not monitoring his working hours in the run up to the crash.
During a sentencing hearing lasting two days, prosecutor Andrew Thomas QC said: “Just 48 hours before the collision, one manager warned Chander was not safe and they should consider ending his contract altogether.”
‘Beautiful little boy’
On Monday (November 26) victim impact statements were read to the court from Rowan’s grandmother Barbara Fitzgerald, as mum Natasha Wilson sobbed in the public gallery.
She said: “He was a beautiful, friendly little boy with a cheeky smile and a mischievous nature.
“All of our lives were turned upside down as a result of this accident.”
Rowan’s mother said in her statement: “He had a heart of gold, he was our sunshine on hard days. He made life full of laughter.
“The pain is indescribable, some days we feel paralysed. Some days we don’t want to live any more.”
Paige Wilson, Rowan’s cousin who was also injured during the crash, said: “I wish I had never got on that bus otherwise Rowan would still be here.
“I get sad and cuddle a pillow my mum got me with mine and Rowan’s picture on in happier times.
“I miss my cousin – he made me happy. He was my best friend. I won’t go on a bus ever again.”
Dora Hancox’s daughters, Wendy and Katrina, also had statements read to court by the prosecutor.
Katrina said: “I’m heartbroken that my mother’s life was taken away from us. I feel cheated as I never got to say goodbye to her.”
Richard Atkins, representing Midlands Red, apologised on behalf of the company to the family and friends of Rowan and Dora.
He said: “I firstly would like to offer the apologies, condolences and deepest sympathies of directors at the company to the family and friends of Rowan Fitzgerald and Dora Hancox and those injured in the bus crash.
“The directors have offered their apologies for our failings and that although we can’t turn back the clocks the company has now done everything it can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”