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Council ordered to pay £170k after women killed by reversing rubbish trucks

South Lakeland District Council has been fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £50,000 in costs after two women were killed by reversing rubbish trucks within a year of each other.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the local authority had failed to tackle the risks from reversing vehicles.

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 of the truck subsequently 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.

Carlisle Crown Court was told South Lakeland 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.

The court heard that this did not happen. Instead reversing was introduced at St Marys School on Prince’s Road in Windermere where the second incident occurred.

South Lakeland 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 was 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.

The local authority 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.

Mark Dawson, HSE’s Principal Inspector for Cumbria and North Lancashire, said: “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.”

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

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