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South Lakeland Council pleads guilty in bin lorry deaths

A council in Cumbria has been fined £120,000 after two women were killed by reversing bin lorries, and must now review its policies.

South Lakeland District Council was prosecuted at Carlisle Crown Court after an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found it had failed to tackle risks from reversing vehicles.

The first incident occurred in June 2010, when Mary Cook, 54, from Nottingham, died after being struck on a single-track lane off Easedale Road, Grasmere.

The driver pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving in a separate prosecution, but HSE 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 oversee the manoeuvre.

HSE said the council should have reviewed its bin collection procedure following the incident to eliminate reversing whenever possible, or to make sure employees guided drivers from behind vehicles when there was no other option.

However a second incident occurred in March 2011, when Dorothy Harkes, 58, from Ulverston, was fatally injured at St Mary's School, Windermere.

The council had been carrying out recycling collections 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.

The driver of the vehicle was also 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 council pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. HSE’s principal inspector for Cumbria and North Lancashire, Mark Dawson, said the council had not done enough to protect its staff and the public from reversing vehicles.

He said: “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.

“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.”

The council was also ordered to pay £50,000 in prosecution costs.

Lawrence Conway, the council's chief executive, said: "These tragedies have had a profound impact on those directly affected and our own organisation, and we are sorry for the distress which has been caused.

"We accept our risk assessment process in relation to the locations of both accidents did not fully comply with the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974."

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