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Bus driver was 'driving dangerously' before crash which killed two

Kailash Chander has been diagnosed with dementia. Credit: PA

An elderly bus driver diagnosed with dementia was driving dangerously when he killed a pedestrian and a seven-year-old boy by crashing into a supermarket, a jury has ruled.

Kailash Chander, who mistook the accelerator for the brake before the smash in Coventry in October 2015, was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial due to post-traumatic stress disorder and frontal lobe dementia.

The 80-year-old, who was 77 at the time of the crash, was excused from attending a "finding-of-facts" trial after psychiatrists said he would be unable to give evidence or instruct lawyers with regard to the crash.

Primary school pupil Rowan Fitzgerald, who was sitting at the front of the upper deck, died of a head injury, while 76-year-old pedestrian Dora Hancox died from multiple injuries after being hit by the bus and a falling lamppost.

A six-day trial at Birmingham Crown Court was told Chander had been warned about his "erratic" driving by bus company Midland Red after four crashes in the previous three years.

Chander, a former mayor of Leamington Spa, had worked for more than 70 hours in the week leading up to the accident, which saw him drive "full throttle" for almost 82 metres.

He had also been the subject of eight warning letters triggered by a "spy-in-the-cab" telematics system installed by Midland Red in 2014 to monitor braking, acceleration and speeding.

Dora Hancox, 76, and Rowan Fitzgerald, 7, both died in the crash in October 2015. Credit: West Midlands Police

Seven months before the fatal crash, Chander was referred to the company's driving school, which sent an anonymous assessor to report on his driving.

The instructor said the journey was "uncomfortable and erratic" - with constant heavy braking and driving which "would not have been good enough" to pass an initial training driving test.

A pre-trial hearing was told Chander may have been suffering from undiagnosed dementia - without showing symptoms to colleagues - at the time of the crash.

The moments before the crash, and the fatal accident itself, were captured on CCTV.

Neuropsychiatrist Michael Kopelman told the hearing Chander suffers from frontotemporal dementia, a diagnosis based on clinical examinations, witness statements, police interviews and brain imaging.

The expert witness, a professor at King’s College, London, said of Chander’s PTSD: “This was obviously a very traumatic event and Mr Chander shows many of the symptoms of that disorder, including nightmares, anxiety and panic attacks, and hypervigilance.

“He is very jumpy, showing a startled reaction to sudden noises and ambulance sirens.”

Jurors deliberated for around three hours on Tuesday before finding that Chander was driving dangerously when he caused the two deaths and serious injury to two other passengers, including Rowan's eight-year-old cousin.

Jurors were not asked to return verdicts of guilty because Chander was mentally unfit to take part in the hearing. They were instead invited to rule on whether he "did the acts" alleged.

Defence lawyers acting for Chander had argued his conduct was careless because it did not fall far below the standard expected of a competent driver.

The scene of the crash in Coventry. Credit: PA

But prosecution QC Andrew Thomas told the jury: "In the scale of driver errors, nothing could be more obvious, and nothing could be more devastating, than putting your foot down on the throttle pedal and accelerating over a prolonged period of time when you are supposed to be braking."

Jurors were shown CCTV footage of Chander - who struggled to punch a ticket moments before the crash as his hands were shaking - steering the bus as it careered over a pavement into the supermarket.

The footage showed a bystander waving frantically at other pedestrians to move out of the way as the upper deck of the bus struck the side of the Sainsbury's store.

Stockport-based Midland Red (South), part of Stagecoach, pleaded guilty last year to offences contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act by permitting Chander to continue driving despite warnings about his competence and fatigue.

Chander could face a supervision order at a further hearing on November 26. Midland Red, which faces an unlimited fine, will be sentenced on the same date.