Fatal accidents and "buzzed" riders - Thames Materials responds

"We understand your concerns" says company. But do they have blind spot mirrors?

by Mark Appleton   January 5, 2011  

road.cc news

Thames Materials, the firm whose driver, Dennis Putz, killed cyclist Catriona Patel while he was at the wheel of one of their trucks, drunk and talking on a mobile phone, has responded to a series of questions posed by road.cc.

That’s “responded” as opposed to “answered.” We contacted them after a road.cc reader questioned the sincerity of their suggestion that they were “very sorry” after one of their trucks was involved in a second fatal accident.

The latest tragedy occurred last month and involved the death of a 51-year-old Japanese businessman who had just arrived in the UK. He was a passenger in a taxi making its way from Heathrow which was struck by a 32-ton Thames Materials tipper truck that smashed through the central reservation of the A4 in Chiswick.

Reader Toby Lovern was less than impressed by the company’s apology, claiming that he and another rider were subjected to dangerous driving by one of Thames Material’s trucks but were unable to identify it as both its registration and fleet numbers were obscured by mud. We contacted the firm and asked for a response to that issue as well as to the following questions:

• Given that your vehicles have been involved in two fatal collisions in a relatively short space of time, what are your procedures for checking the competence and fitness to drive of your employees?
• Are your drivers paid on any form of piece rate or simply by the hour?
• What efforts have you made corporately to express your condolences to the family of Catriona Patel?
• What efforts have you made corporately to express your condolences to the family of the deceased Japanese businessman?
• What procedures do you have to ensure your individual vehicles are easily identifiable by members of the public and what are your procedures for dealing with reports of poor driving?
• Do you subscribe to a "How's my driving?" 0800-number scheme? If not, why not?
• Do all of your vehicles have blind spot mirrors to allow drivers to see cyclists? If not why not?
• How many accidents and incidents which have been reported to the police have your drivers been involved in over the course of the last two years.
• What is the size and nature of your vehicle fleet and how many drivers do you employ?

Having initially spoken to an executive at the company who refused to identify himself and despite emailing the questions as requested it was only after some prompting that we eventually got the following response from “a spokesman”:

“The tragic accident in June 2009 led to the prosecution and subsequent conviction of a driver who had been employed on the basis of his qualifications, certified experience and first class references obtained from previous employers. Quite properly the courts have recently dealt with this individual – the case was finally heard shortly before the most recent accident, which occurred approximately 18 months after the first incident.

"These were completely unrelated – and the police investigation is continuing into the circumstances surrounding last week’s accident. It would therefore be wrong to discuss any details relating to this matter while those investigations continue. We are cooperating fully with the Metropolitan Police and continue to vigorously review all our safety processes, as well as our recruitment and training procedures.

"The safety and security of all road users; and the safety of our customers – and our own employees – is the overarching priority of this business, and we work every day to ensure that message is at the forefront of everything we do.

"Nevertheless, the facts are that two tragic fatalities have occurred in the last two years and we understand the concerns these awful accidents have raised. Our thoughts are with the families and friends who have lost loved ones and we are determined that the lessons learned from these events are applied in every area of our business - so as to ensure that we do everything we can to prevent anything like this happening again.”

So there you have it. We still don't know if Thames Materials' vehicles are fitted with blind spot mirrors, or whether they have apologised to the families of Catriona Patel and the Japanese businessman. In fact we don't really know the answers to any of our questions.

We’ll leave it to you to decide what the response to what we feel are fair and legitimate questions says about the company.
 

11 user comments

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So, basically avoided answering everything directly as they have not, or have no intention of acting on the above items.

Not a good show on their part.....

posted by harvey.grainger [13 posts]
5th January 2011 - 11:43

0 Likes

Quote:
"The safety and security of all road users; and the safety of our customers – and our own employees – is the overarching priority of this business,......"

Rubbish, the overarching priority of any business is to make a profit and to ensure that everything else is attuned to that end. If they can avoid killing people on the way then it's a bonus whereas it should be a priority.

Is there any chance that the directors of this company could be in for a corporate manslaughter charge?

Did Nightrider 2013 and 2014 for Parkinson's UK. Might just have one last go in 2015.

jova54's picture

posted by jova54 [652 posts]
5th January 2011 - 11:55

1 Like

Corporate manslaughter is an extremely difficult charge to prove - it requires 'gross' breach of a duty of care in the way a company is managed and run. because of the nature of a company of any significant size, it is unusual that high level management would have enough knowledge of any of the circumstances/causes to satisfy the charge. In any event, corporate manslaughter would be a charge brought against the company (not the directors). Charging the a director personally is even less likely.

I assume that the Health and Safety Executive are investigating/have investigated the incidents - they are the ones with the most usable power in this situation, as the power the shut down the business until breaches are rectified is the one which hurts the company most.

What would be best for these sorts of incidents is a strict liability law - death or injury caused by commercial vehicle results in removal of said vehicle (and driver) from road until such time as it is proved neither vehicle nor driver were at fault. Companies (and drivers) would be enormously keen to avoid any such incidents, and the culture of commercial vehicle operating companies would change significantly.

posted by step-hent [713 posts]
5th January 2011 - 12:17

1 Like

It's up to the cycling community to get the word out on this outfit. The more people who know their safety record the more influence we can have to boycott their services. The only thing these people will understand is loss of income. Time to spread the word.

posted by bjbeau [2 posts]
5th January 2011 - 12:18

1 Like

Well we go around wearing high viz clothes as we are vunerable to these behemoths. Perhaps we should find a way of marking these lorries as dangerous so others know the killers that lurk (or rumble)on the streets - a skull and crossbones? A 'my driving may kill you sticker'?
I am serious - one of my colleagues was killed by a lorry a few years ago whilst on her bike. Tobacco carries a health warning, lorries should too (and busses, and cars, and, well, that could get a bit silly).
Until much harsher penalties are imposed on those who kill, maim, or otherwise destroy peoples lives

posted by Myriadgreen [96 posts]
5th January 2011 - 13:05

2 Likes

“The tragic accident in June 2009 led to the prosecution and subsequent conviction of a driver who had been employed on the basis of his qualifications, certified experience and first class references obtained from previous employers."

This part of the response does stand out. Given the previous poor record of the driver who caused the death of Catriona Patel, it does suggest that a closer examination of this issue might reveal more of interest. What checks were carried out? What references were given for the driver and by whom? There are legal issues so Thames Materials does have to be careful of what it says at present. I suspect that there is more to this story than has so far been revealed and it may be more complex than first meets the eye, so it is certainly one to watch as it unfolds.

It is worth remembering too that comments on the Internet regarding legal cases can have a bearing on the outcome.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2492 posts]
5th January 2011 - 13:09

1 Like

The Transport Commissioners are responsible for ensuring that HGV drivers and operators are 'reputable' and 'competent' - see here, so presumably they should be investigating Thames Materials in light of the Catriona Patel case outcome. However, as far as I can see there is no way for us average citizens to request an investigation or hearing, or to know whether there is one coming up. It's all extremely untransparent. Perhaps something road.cc could look into?

posted by JimG [1 posts]
5th January 2011 - 14:24

1 Like

There is something we can do, if you ride with a digital camera or a camcorder with a time stamp on it and you see a Thames Materials lorry (or any other for that matter) which has its numberplate obscured or is covered in mud - both of which are traffic offences take a picture of it and send it to us with any other details of the offences. We'll gather them all together and pester the relvant people with them and see where that gets us.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4188 posts]
5th January 2011 - 17:01

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Their claim about why they employed Putz seems at odds with the details which came out of the court case.
They didn't really want to answer any of your questions.

As I have a helmet cam I will keep a look out for Thames Materials HGVs when on the bike.

posted by thereverent [338 posts]
5th January 2011 - 18:08

2 Likes

Tony

I note mention of traffic commissioners (London is Metropolitan Traffic Area Office nominally based Brighton) - recently NW commissioner Beverley Bell spoke out on lack of backing for their enforcement when operators are called to inquiries. Operators can appeal against a ban and keep operating until appeal decision is made.

Offences include obscured lights, lights fitted and not working, which are easy to spot, and I'd add that if you have local Police phone number or a local "Not a 999" facility get the report logged - the more we can log the better as it builds a big dossier on the lack of repute and competence to drop in when the bigger opportunity arrives "The court was informed of XXX previous offences/infringments etc"

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [539 posts]
5th January 2011 - 22:46

1 Like

Reporting on actual offences by hauliers and using camera footage is a good way to monitor the activities of firms - it'll give the cops something to go on and is well within the law.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2492 posts]
6th January 2011 - 10:11

1 Like