CTC, the national cycling charity, has welcomed the news that the HGV operator’s licence for Frys Logistics Limited has been revoked – but has questioned why it took 28 months to happen. A Traffic Commissioner ruled that in putting profit before the law, Frys contributed to the death of two charity cyclists who were hit by one of its trucks.
Robert Palmer was jailed for eight and a half years after pleading guilty to two counts of causing death by dangerous driving after falling asleep at the wheel and driving his lorry into Andrew McMenigall and Toby Wallace, who were riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats on the A30 in Cornwall in July 2013.
CTC have always maintained that Palmer should not have been at the wheel that day, arguing that he was extremely fatigued after doing back to back night and day shifts and that Frys should be held accountable. The firm regularly allowed Palmer to drive while exhausted after working consecutive shifts. He would repair vehicles in their yard, followed by a shift driving an HGV.
Sarah Bell, Traffic Commissioner for the West of England, said that since the incident the firm had “knowingly continued with the practice of sending out drivers who had not had their rest period.” She said Frys’ lack of regard for the rules contributed to the deaths of the two cyclists and added that it was “by far the worst case I have seen since I started as a Traffic Commissioner in 2007.”
She revoked the firm’s HGV operator's licence from midnight on December 23, 2015 and also disqualified transport manager Mark Darren Fry, the sole director of the company, from acting as a Transport Manager. Neither Fry nor Frys Logistics are permitted to hold an operator’s licence or be involved in the management of HGVs for ten years.
“Mr Fry has a calculated approach to road safety,” said Bell. “It appears that the interests of profit supersede road safety.”
CTC, the national cycling charity, welcomed the verdict, but questioned why it has only come 28 months after the tragic incident.
CTC’s Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer Duncan Dollimore said:
“Following the tragic events in July 2013, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) identified that the operator’s drivers were breaking the rules, but despite the appalling consequences the company, controlled by Mr Fry, displayed no contrition, remorse, or ability to learn from past mistakes.
“Robert Palmer was called to account for his responsibility relatively quickly. His employer knew they were sending out tired drivers, had been doing so previously, and have continued to do so. They have also been able to carry on trading, putting road users at risk while the enforcement process has progressed at a snail’s pace.”
Traffic Commissioners (TCs) are responsible for the licensing and regulation of those who operate heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches. Where the behaviour of an operator may have contributed to a collision, TCs are those who investigate.
CTC says that Traffic Commissioners (TCs) are often taking too long to investigate goods vehicle operators who are accused of breaching safety regulations and believes that the issue lies with how they find out about infringements in the first place.
“The Traffic Commissioners are toothless tigers in regulatory terms until rogue operators are brought to their attention. They are not investigators. They consider the evidence put before them. DVSA is one of the agencies that can investigate and present that evidence, but needs to be funded and resourced to do so. They also often await the outcome of police enquiries before commencing their own.
“The suspicion is that too many within the enforcement, regulatory and judicial processes await the investigations and decisions of others, the consequences of which are delay, unnecessary distress for families of victims, and, with HGVs, ongoing risk from operators whose licences need to be revoked.”
CTC has made specific submissions on HGV regulation to the ongoing Transport Committee Inquiry into road traffic law enforcement and will be giving evidence to the Committee next week.