South Yorkshire Times December 8, 1951
Conisbrough Road Accident
Magistrates Take a Serious View
Satisfied Driver “Did Not Get Proper Control”
Though seats were fitted for only two, four men were riding in the cab of a builder’s lorry which skidded and overturned in Low Road, Conisbrough, on August ‘.8th. Four other men were killed in the mishap. The driver of the lorry, Wilfred Reginald Gelder (30), of 20, Cliff View, Denaby, appeared before Doncaster West Riding Court on Tuesday, charged with not having proper control of the vehicle while driving a motor-lorry.
He was found guilty and fined £8. Gelder was discharged, on payment of costs, on a further charge of using a lorry whose front spring shackles were not in such a condition that no danger was caused to persons or vehicles.
Ben Bailey, Ltd., building contractors, of Doncaster Road, Mexborough, the owners of the lorry; pleaded “Guilty” to a similar charge respecting the spring shackles, and were fined £25.
Spent “Without Regard”
Mr. F. H. Nicholson, defending the Company, said that they took “scrupulous care” of their lorries, and spent over £1,000 a year on their maintenance alone. There were about eight lorries, and drivers were allowed to take them in to one of two garages to be inspected or repaired if they had any complaint. The Company, he said, spent money without regard on the lorries, because it paid them to.
About ten or twelve days before the accident this particular lorry, he said, had been taken to a garage for other repairs. The foreman at the garage had noticed that a spring shackle was worn and told Gelder when he called for the lorry. Gelder suggested that he should ring up a foreman on a building site at Rossington, where Gelder was working, and ask for instructions. The building foreman replied that the lorry was wanted urgently, but would be returned for spring repairs at a later date.
Unfortunately, Mr. Nicholson said, there was a “slip-up in the organisation.” Mr. Bailey was not told of the spring damage by his building foreman, and did not know anything of it until after the accident. The lorry was then returning from the building site at Rossington, and was carrying ‘about 25 workmen back to Mexborough.
“Could Not Be Blamed”
Mr. R. Elmhirst, defending Gelder, also pointed out that Gelder could not be blamed for using the defective lorry. He was merely instructed to take out a lorry, and only employed by the firm. In addition, he had only been working for the company a few days, and was not, perhaps, completely used to the routine.
Mr. M. D. Shaffne, for the prosecution, said that he did not think the worn shackle had in any way contributed to the accident, but said it was in a dangerous condition.
On the charge of not having proper control over the lorry, Mr. Shaffner said he understood there were three passengers besides Gelder, in the cab. There were seats made only for the driver and one passenger, and the hand brake and gear levers were between the seats.
P.c. W. Stainthorpe, stationed at Denaby, said he interviewed Gelder the day following the accident. He said then that there were only two men in the cab besides himself. Later that week, P.c. W. Stainthorpe heard there were three men, and he questioned Gelder again. Gelder said that there were three men in the cab.
A police technician, P.c. P. A. Swallow, said he had taken the place of the driver in the cab of a lorry, with three other persons. l found it impossible,” he said, “to work the hand brake. The person sitting between the seats had his right thigh over the top of the brake If he had been sitting on a board it would not have made any difference. I found I had also great difficulty in moving the gear lever either into reverse, second or fourth years. My left shoulder and elbow were wedged into the man next to me, and I could not move my left arm to the rear, or take a left turn using my left arm.
The only position I could have for my right arm and shoulder or through the window of the driving side door.
“I did not have proper control of the lorry in that position, and would have found it more or less impossible to drive the lorry. I would definitely not have attempted to drive it under those circumstances.”
Under examination by Mr. Elmhirst, P.c. Swallow admitted that he could have driven the lorry in that position, and for the nine miles in which Gelder had driven from Rossington until the accident, but it would have been difficult.
“Slippery Patch of Ground”
Mr. Elmhirst said the police had omitted to make any reference to , the one thing that caused the accident; the dangerous, slippery patch of road in Low Road, Conisbrough. “The police knew perfectly well that this man had a terrible skid and it was that that caused this ghastly accident.”- For about 150 yards, the road, where it dipped sharply and rose again, was paved with cobbles, he said, dangerous things in wet conditions.
Photographs taken by the defence also showed that the three men sitting with Gelder had left the driver plenty of room and access to his brake and gear lever.
Gelder, examined by Mr. Elrnhirst, said that the passengers were completely out of the way of the controls. Stevens’ legs were pointing to the left of the cab, and did not at all inconvenience him. “I could have put the vehicle in any direction I wanted,” he said. He admitted that he had carried three passengers before.
Gelder admitted to Mr. Shaffner that he had lied about the number of men in the cab when first interviewed by the police, but said it was not because he was afraid it was wrong to have three passengers.
He said he was able to drive as well with three passengers as with one and that his left arm was not impeded by Stevens.
Since the accident he had left the company’s employ and had, in fact stop driving, for the present at least.
The three other men in the cab all gave evidence. They were Charles Arthur Skipper, foreman builder, of 20, Park Avenue, Mexborough, Charles Johnson, foreman builder, of 43, Valley Road, Swinton, and Joseph Stevens, driver, of 20 Windhill Crescent, Mexborough.
Was Not Worried
Skipper said he did not consider it at all dangerous to ride with three others in a cab—he had done it before—and he was not at all worried as to how the lorry was driven for the first nine miles.
Johnson admitted that when questioned by the police about the number of people in the cab he had evaded the question. He told Mr. Shaffner that he had not mentioned Stevens “because no one asked me.”
Questioned by Mr. Shaffner, Stevens said he first told the police he had been sitting in the back of the lorry, but denied he did so because he thought it was wrong to have four in the Cab. He also said in his first statement that Skipper was sitting on Johnson’s knees and not between them, on the edge of the seat, and he first described the cab as “crammed.”
Col. W. St. A. Warde-Aldam, chairman of the Magistrates, summing up, said to Gelder: “We are satisfied that you did not get proper control and that as a result of this there was a terrible accident. There have been a good many accidents of this sort lately. Workmen who are taken to and from work in this way are entitled to be protected and so we must take a serious view of the case.”
Gelder was given three weeks in which to pay the fine.
The inquest on the four victims of the mishap will be resumed at Denaby on Tuesday.