Family’s fury at coach tragedy

The inquest heard that had Shoreline's staff secured the handbrake on the bus Neil Brown was working under, it wouldn't have rolled on him and crushed him to death.
The inquest heard that had Shoreline's staff secured the handbrake on the bus Neil Brown was working under, it wouldn't have rolled on him and crushed him to death.

As the family of mechanic Neil Brown mourn their “gentle giant”, an inquest heard he would still be alive if the handbrake had been secured on the bus that crushed him.

Investigators found Shoreline Suncruisers’ staff had not applied the handbrake, tragically allowing the bus to roll onto Neil’s chest as he worked underneath.

Neil Brown

Neil Brown

His family are now demanding a formal apology from the Scarborough firm, claiming he has been made a “scapegoat” in death for the state that the Shoreline’s fleet was in. And his wife Karen has now lead fresh tributes, saying: “Neil was loved and respected by all.

“He was a loving husband, stepdad and son-in-law

“Not a day goes past when he is not in all our thoughts and we miss him greatly every day.”

Tuesday’s inquest found that the 42-year-old’s death was preventable, while evidence given under oath by Shoreline staff was revealed to be false.

Last month, Shoreline’s shamed transport manager Tom Stephenson was disqualified after every bus inspected in the wake of April’s tragedy was found to be riddled with faults.

Mr Stephenson said prior to Neil’s death, he had contemplated ditching the contractor after almost 18 years due to what he claimed was falling standards in his work.

His family angrily dispute that and are calling for the firm to say sorry for the way they say his good name has been dragged through the dirt.

“The avoidance of responsibilty and apportioned blame onto a man who can’t defend himself has presented as indefensible,” his “devastated” family said in a statement.

And they’ve spoke of their “disappointment” at Mr Stephenson, claiming that he told them to their faces that he had no concerns about his work - even praising Neil for always being there for his family’s firm.

Yet at the traffic commissioner’s enquiry, Mr Stephenson claimed he had been looking elsewhere for a new mechanic, telling the hearing: “We were not happy with the level of workmanship we were receiving at the time.”

Now his family have broken their silence to question the “disparity and inaccuracy” of the information coming out of Shoreline - and more specifically, Tom Stephenson.

“The family want to highlight that Neil was not responsible for the day-to-day inspections of the buses and was only called out to fix any concerns as directed by the company,” they added.

This was the case on April 14 this year, with the Town Hall inquest hearing that he enjoyed a final “cuppa and bacon sarnie” with his wife before racing to the firm’s Queen Margaret’s Road depot to fix a fault.

That fault on the bus’ brakes meant the qualified mechanic needed to go underneath the huge vehicle, which the inquest heard had been raised several inches on two wooden “chocks”.

Shoreline’s depot foreman David Pask told coroner Michael Oakley that he had watched over part of the ill-fated repair, claiming he had personally reversed the vehicle onto the chocks, turned off the engine and handbrake.

But TC Langford, North Yorkshire Police’s collision investigator, said CCTV footage showed the vehicle had been driven forward onto the wood.

And, more crucially, an inspection of the vehicle hours after the accident revealed the handbrakes hadn’t been put on.

“It may have been that the engine had been turned off, but the issue with the parking break I would dispute heavily,” said the veteran investigator.

“If it had been, we wouldn’t be sat here today.”

The packed inquest also heard how the accident could also have been prevented had the “experienced” Mr Brown put in place more chocks, to avoid the car rolling.

But the car did roll, with CCTV showing Mr Brown desperately trying to scramble out the way of the bus.

As he did, the bus effectively “trapped” him, crushing his chest.

“Dave (Pask) was frantically shouting that Neil was trapped under the bus,” said Tom Stephenson, who was one of the first on the scene.

“I saw his leg sticking out and it was quite visible that the bus had come off the chocks.”

The pair tried to raise the bus as they waited several minutes for emergency services. At this point, Mr Brown was still alive.

“I was just talking to him and rubbing his shoulders and stuff,” added Mr Stephenson.

He was eventually rushed to Scarborough Hospital but died shortly after arrival due to a large crushing injury coupled with traumatic asphyxia.

Mr Oakley ruled that the death of Mr Brown, of Bridlington Road, was accidental.

While his family consider their next step, they say that whatever happens in the future, they now want some good to stem from the tragedy.

“We hope that if anything comes out of the loss of such a good man it is that others reflect and value the importance of honesty and respect of others,” they said.

And they added: “Scapegoat is a strong word but one that is now directing the family to seek a formal apology from Shoreline Suncruisers in order to protect his reputation and the positive memories that so many credible individuals have of Neil.”

Tributes flooded in for Neil after his death, with friends calling him a “Hunmanby legend”.

And just moments after the Tour De Yorkshire passed through the village on the day of his funeral, it fell silent as his cortege passed through.

Mr Stephenson was disqualified last month for at least six months from his role as transport commissioner, although the terms of his punishment not only allow him to still work for the company but will allow him to eventually retake up his old position upon the completion of a course.

And despite calls from parents, North Yorkshire County Council has refused to rip up it’s contract with the firm to bus Scarborough pupils to school.