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£120k fine for council over bin lorry deaths

A Cumbrian council has been fined £120,000 after two women were killed by reversing bin lorries in the space of nine months.

South Lakeland District Council was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an investigation that found the local authority had failed to tackle the risks from reversing vehicles.

Carlisle Crown Court heard the first incident happened on a single-track lane off Easedale Road in Grasmere on 2 June 2010. Mary Cook had been walking down the track while on holiday with her husband when she was struck by a reversing rubbish truck. The 54-year-old from Nottingham died from her injuries.

The driver pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving in a separate prosecution. However, the HSE investigation also found that it was normal practice for 7.5 tonne bin lorries to reverse down the long track to reach a holiday rental home, without a council employee walking behind to guide the driver.

The court was told the council should have reviewed all its bin collection rounds following the incident to eliminate reversing whenever possible, or to make sure employees guided drivers from behind vehicles when there was no other option but to reverse.

This did not happen and instead reversing was actually introduced at St Mary's School on Prince’s Road in Windermere where the second incident occurred.

The council had been carrying out fortnightly collections of recycling waste from outside the school gates for a term when it changed its system and instead began reversing the trucks onto the school grounds to collect the rubbish.

On 17 March 2011, council employee Dorothy Harkes, 58, from Ulverston, was walking behind a rubbish truck to guide the driver when she was struck, causing fatal injuries.

The driver of the vehicle was also convicted of causing death by careless driving but the HSE investigation concluded that there had been no need for council trucks to reverse onto the school grounds.

South Lakeland District Council was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £50,000 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

“Both the drivers have already admitted their part in Mary and Dorothy’s deaths but our investigation found the council had not done all it should have to protect the public and their employees from the danger of reversing rubbish trucks.

“The lane that Mary Cook and her husband had been walking along was heavily used by holidaymakers and yet the council failed to make sure measures were in place so that its vehicles could reverse safely.

“What’s particularly disappointing is that the council actually introduced reversing as part of its collection of recycling waste from St Mary's School, rather than trying to eliminate it wherever possible following Mary’s death.”

– Mark Dawson, HSE’s Principal Inspector for Cumbria and North Lancashire