Driver lost control of death bus because brakes failed, court told

A BRAKE-SYSTEMS expert told the Navan schoolbus trial the vehicle crashed because the ABS wasn’t working and that the driver had lost control when the wheels locked.

Rod McLellan, a chartered engineer and independent technical consultant with specialist knowledge of brakes used by heavy good vehicles, inspected the Bus Eireann vehicle after it had collided with two cars four miles outside Navan in May 2005.

Mr McLellan also told the trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that the faulty ABS had significantly affected the outcome of the crash in which five schoolgirls were killed .

He told prosecutor Brendan Grehan that when the rear wheels lock it causes a vehicle to swing around and rotate until it effectively goes backwards. When ABS fails, it leads to a “very serious situation” and makes it very difficult for a driver to steer the vehicle.

Mr McLellan said the driver would have been able to steer the bus if the ABS system had been working and the consequences of the crash would have been different.


Joe McArdle, a director, has pleaded not guilty on behalf of McArdle’s Test Centre Ltd, to two charges of failing to note the ABS warning light on the bus wasn’t operational while conducting a vehicle test on March 15, 2005, two months before the tragedy.

A second company, Keltank Ltd of Balbriggan, has pleaded guilty through Sonya Kelly, company secretary, that, being aware that ABS sensor leads were disconnected, it failed to ascertain whether a hazard arose as a consequence thereof before returning the bus to driver John Hubble on May 5, 2005.

Tony Wynn, a senior vehicle tester in the Department of Transport, said that if a vehicle has an ABS system fitted and it is not working it would “100 per cent” fail a road-worthy test.

But Mr Wynn added that the ABS should not interfere with the integrity of the vehicle, so if it failed a person could continue to drive safely.

Garda James Egan, a public service vehicle inspector, said the warning light should come on when the ignition is switched on to show the driver the ABS was working but there was no bulb in place.

He examined the underside of the vehicle and found two ABS cables were disconnected or broken. He regarded the broken cables as “significant” and he also noted a “DIY job” where cable ties had held together the ABS cables.

Gda Egan found that the normal brakes were in “excellent condition”, the condition of the tyres complied with regulations, and the steering system had no defects and was well maintained. Sergeant Colm Finn, a forensic collision investigator, attempted a reconstruction of the crash. When he carried out a skid test with a bus which didn’t have ABS operating, it began moving in an anti-clockwise direction. If there was ABS working, the bus would continue in it’s correct direction.

Garda Adrian Tucker, a public service vehicle inspector who had experience of more than 200 fatalities in crashes, examined the bus and found that the ABS system wiring was fractured and disconnected. He described the defect in the ABS system as “dangerous” and added that cable ties had been used to “tidy up loose cables” that would have been hanging down because they were disconnected.

Keltank foreman Pat Bebbington said the company was responsible for the servicing and maintenance of 30 Bus Eireann coaches. He agreed that Bus Eireann never asked Keltank to check the ABS on the bus and the first time he became aware that the vehicle was even fitted with the system was from media reports.

Three mechanics with Keltank — Aidan Callan; Colin Maher; and Adrian McManus — described repairs carried out on the bus from November 2004 up to two weeks before the accident.

They were aware the bus had an ABS system fitted but did not think it ever worked, and denied removing a bulb from the ABS warning light.

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