Coventry & Warwickshire

Coventry bus crash: Kailash Chander was driving dangerously

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Media captionThe bus crashed into a branch of Sainsbury's

A bus driver who crashed into a shop, killing two people, was driving dangerously when he caused the deaths, a trial of facts has found.

The double-decker bus driven by Kailash Chander smashed into a Sainsbury's supermarket in October 2015.

Rowan Fitzgerald, seven, and Dora Hancox, 76, died when the bus crashed in Trinity Street, Coventry.

Mr Chander, 80, from Leamington Spa, was judged unfit to plead or stand trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

The former town mayor was diagnosed with dementia after the crash.

The court heard Mr Chander had been warned about his "erratic" driving by bus company Midland Red after four crashes in the previous three years.

He had worked for more than 70 hours in the week leading up to the crash.

Mr Chander mistook the accelerator for the brake before the fatal smash, prosecutors said.

Image copyright South West News Service
Image caption Kailash Chander has been judged medically unfit to enter a plea or stand trial

He had also been the subject of eight warning letters triggered by a "spy-in-the-cab" system installed by Midland Red in 2014 to monitor braking, acceleration and speeding.

Seven months before the crash, Mr Chander was referred to the company's driving school, which sent an anonymous assessor to report on his driving.

The instructor said the journey was "uncomfortable and erratic" and "would not have been good enough" to pass an initial training driving test.

Jurors were also shown CCTV footage of Mr Chander - who struggled to punch a ticket moments before the crash as his hands were shaking - steering the bus as it careered over a pavement into the supermarket.

Passenger Casper Mudenha told the court it felt like "the bus was out of control".

Rowan, a primary school pupil from Leamington, died of a head injury. He had been sitting at the front of the upper deck at the time of the crash on 3 October 2015.

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Rowan Fitzgerald attended St Anthony's Catholic Primary School in Leamington Spa

In a statement Rowan's family said "no sentence would ever stop the hurt that we feel" for his loss and called for a change in the law preventing people driving buses in old age.

Pedestrian Ms Hancox, from Nuneaton, was struck by the bus and a falling lamppost.

Jurors deliberated for around three hours on Tuesday before finding Mr Chander was driving dangerously when he caused the two deaths and serious injury to two other passengers, including Rowan's eight-year-old cousin.

They were not asked to return verdicts of guilty because Mr Chander was mentally unfit to take part in the hearing.

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Mr Chander's dementia diagnosis meant he was deemed unfit to plea or stand trial

His dementia diagnosis may have meant he was unable to "break out" of a state of hyper-vigilance as he pressed the accelerator instead of the brake.

The court also heard while no brake lights were seen during the 12-second journey of the bus, the lights became illuminated seven seconds after the crash.

He had experienced suicidal thoughts, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and was "very preoccupied" by the crash, the court heard.

The jury was instead invited to rule on whether Mr Chander "did the acts" alleged.

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Dora Hancox was one of two people killed in the crash

Defence lawyers acting for Mr Chander had argued his conduct was careless because it did not fall far below the standard expected of a competent driver.

But prosecution QC Andrew Thomas told the jury: "In the scale of driver errors, nothing could be more obvious, and nothing could be more devastating, than putting your foot down on the throttle pedal and accelerating over a prolonged period of time when you are supposed to be braking."

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Media captionCCTV captures Coventry bus crash which killed two people

Mr Chander could face a supervision order at a further hearing due to take place in November.

Bus company Midland Red (South), which has pleaded guilty to health and safety law breaches, faces an unlimited fine and will be sentenced on Friday.

A spokesman said: "We are deeply sorry for the heartache of those affected, particularly the families of Rowan Fitzgerald and Dora Hancox."

A member of the public who saw the bus speeding towards the supermarket and told pedestrians to get out of the way has been commended for bravery by the police.

"I am certain that his bravery on the day saved many other lives," Sgt Alan Wood said of 35-year-old Tiel Portlock, who can be seen waving his arms urging people to move in CCTV footage of the crash.

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