Coroner finds lorry's faulty brakes did not cause crash on A66 in Yorkshire which killed tourist - but criticises owner of trailer for 'lacking credibility'
Kerstin Hanke died at the scene and her husband Thomas remains in a brain injury rehabilitation unit after their VW Touran was struck by a Scania HGV as they attempted a right turn onto the 50mph road from the village of Ravensworth, near Richmond, on their way to a farm shop.
Inside the lorry’s cab were driver Daniel Flynn, 34, and the trailer’s owner Nathan Greene, 35, who were returning from a trip transporting horses from Northern Ireland to Germany.
Coroner for North Yorkshire Jonathan Leach said he did not accept that neither man realised that the HGV’s braking capacity was as low as 35 per cent efficiency during the 12,000-mile trip via Hull Docks – and said Mr Greene ‘lacked credibility’ as a witness and that Mr Flynn had been ‘unhelpful’ to police. Both claimed to have noticed no problems with the braking during the journey.
Mr Greene was charged with causing Mrs Hanke’s death by dangerous driving, but was acquitted at York Crown Court when the prosecution offered no evidence against him.
Evidence was heard from a DVSA vehicle examiner who said that the horsebox trailer, which Mr Greene had bought for £7,000 in the Republic of Ireland in 2018 without test driving it, had ‘almost no’ brake function and that one of the brakes had been deliberately disconnected from the air pipe. The tractor unit, owned by Mr Flynn, was in ‘poor’ condition with a defective brake axle. There was no record of the trailer ever having had an MOT and its identification number had been deliberately removed. The tractor had a valid MOT, but had missed a monthly safety check required for HGVs before the crash.
Yet Mr Leach decided that the collision had been ‘inevitable’ and that Mr Hanke should not have pulled out into the lorry’s path.
Recording a conclusion of death in a road traffic collision, he said: “Thomas Hanke was considered a safe and competent driver (by friends and family), but he should not have pulled out as he had insufficient time to cross the carriageway. The collision was inevitable and it will never be known why he made an error of judgement.
"I find the defects to be incompatible with a lack of driver concern. I attach no weight to Mr Greene’s evidence. The trailer had no brakes and no brake test. He either knew this or he was indifferent to it. He has no credibility.
"In Mr Flynn’s case, I don’t accept he would not have been aware of it. The trailer had clearly not been maintained. He gave some ‘no comment’ answers in police interviews, and other replies were not helpful. I would have expected him to give more assistance to the police and DVSA.
"The defects did not contribute to the collision, which would have occurred in any event as the distance between the vehicles was only 24 metres, or just one second’s reaction time. It would be inappropriate to form a narrative conclusion.”