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Haulage boss and mechanic face long jail terms over fatal truck crash

A "cowboy" haulage boss and his mechanic are facing lengthy prison sentences after a 32-tonne truck with faulty brakes killed a little girl and three men in a horror crash.

Matthew Gordon, 30, and Peter Wood, 55, were each convicted of four counts of gross negligence manslaughter after four-year-old Mitzi Steady, Robert Parker, 59, Philip Allen, 52, and Stephen Vaughan, 34, died.

They were struck by the heavily-loaded Scania truck carrying aggregate down Lansdown Lane in Upper Weston, Bath, on February 9 last year.

Truck driver Phillip Potter, 20, was cleared of all the charges he faced by the jury at Bristol Crown Court.

The victims' families said their loved ones should never have died.

Mr Vaughan's widow Sian said she had been robbed of the chance to start a family with her husband, who ran his own chauffeur business in Swansea.

"I think Steve came across a lot of companies when he was running EliteXecutive Travel and I think a word he would have used to describe them would have been 'cowboys'," she said.

"It is just really disappointing that somebody would put a lorry like that on the road knowing there are defects.

"All the plans, the future we had together has all been taken away. They have denied us a family, something we both wanted very much. We were only married for six months."

Denise Parker, Mr Parker's widow, said his death could have been avoided if people "had done the right thing".

"I can only hope that something is done to stop this ever happening again," Mrs Parker, from Cwmbran, South Wales, said.

Louise Allen, Mr Allen's widow, said: "We miss him so much all the time. This tragedy should never have happened."

Mitzi's parents Andrew and Emmajade Steady said: "Nothing can bring her back and we will miss her every day for the rest of our lives.

"We urge all those involved in safety sensitive industries to ensure they know and follow relevant rules and guidance, and report failure to do so to owners and authorities until action is taken."

Mr Potter was following Gordon, the owner of Wiltshire-based Grittenham Haulage, down the steep lane when the brakes on his 11-year-old truck failed.

He struck Mitzi and her grandmother Margaret Rogers as they crossed the road before hitting three parked cars and killing Mr Vaughan and Western Power Distribution executives Mr Allen and Mr Parker, who were all sitting in a Volvo.

Witnesses saw smoke coming from Mr Potter's lorry and smelt the brakes burning as he drove down the hill. The ABS warning light - indicating problems with the braking system - was also on.

Mr Potter, who had only worked at the company a few days, told the court he would never have driven the lorry had he known the brakes were faulty.

Gordon was granted an operator's licence in December 2013, the first time he had run such a business.

"His operation was a shambles from start to finish," prosecutor Adam Vaitilingam QC said.

Grittenham Haulage was supposed to have a transport manager - responsible for ensuring the lorries were safe - but did not do so in the months leading up to the fatal incident.

Wood was employed by Grittenham Haulage to inspect and help maintain the lorries, carrying out inspections every six weeks.

Grittenham Haulage did not carry out the recommended brake efficiency tests on the vehicle, which had 710,000km - almost 450,000 miles - on the clock at the time of the incident.

The final safety check on the vehicle by Wood was in January last year, weeks before the tragedy.

"He says that when he looked at the lorry it was in a perfectly safe condition. This sort of catastrophic brake failure doesn't just happen through bad luck," Mr Vaitilingam said.

"This was entirely predictable, the result of poor management and a disregard for the rules and a failure to comply with routine guidelines. It was, put simply, an accident waiting to happen."

Following the verdicts, trial judge Mr Justice Langstaff remanded the defendants into custody saying they could expect "substantial terms" of imprisonment.

Gordon, of Dauntsey, Wiltshire, and Wood, of Brinkworth, Wiltshire, will be sentenced on January 27.

Mr Potter's barrister told the court: "On his instructions, he invites me to say to the families how sorry he was that he has been involved in anything to do with their loss."

Detective Chief Inspector Rich Ocone, from Avon and Somerset Police, said: "Our investigation revealed a shocking picture of a company culture with complete disregard of safety and maintenance.

"This was a company with a very casual attitude towards safety."

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