Examiner ‘could reach bin lorry brake from rear cab’

Forensic vehicle examiner Philip Balderstone arrives at Glasgow Sheriff Court. Picture:  PA
Forensic vehicle examiner Philip Balderstone arrives at Glasgow Sheriff Court. Picture: PA
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AN expert witness has told the inquiry into the Glasgow bin lorry crash, which killed six people including a mum from Edinburgh, that he could reach the handbrake from the rear crew seats.

Vehicle examiner Philip Balderstone said he could reach the brake with his foot – but only by hand when he was standing without a seatbelt on.

The fatal accident inquiry (FAI) has heard two crewmen on board during the crash were seated with their belts on.

The inquiry is examining the lorry, its route and driver Harry Clarke’s health.

Mr Balderstone was giving evidence on the third day of the FAI, which is being overseen by Sheriff John Beckett QC at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

The vehicle examination consultant, who works for the Transport Research Laboratory, 
was asked to produce a report on the bin lorry following the crash on December 22 last year, which claimed the life of 52-year-old Gillian Ewing from Mortonhall.

The court has already heard that the front driver section of the lorry cab and the rear crew section was separated by a metal bar.

Mr Balderstone’s report noted that the vehicle had an emergency stop button for its rear machinery. This, however, was not connected to the chassis or drive of the lorry, meaning it could not stop the vehicle.

The court was then shown a picture of Mr Balderstone in the vehicle cab, trying to reach the parking brake control from the rear crew section.

Mr Balderstone confirmed that he was able to reach the brake lever from the rear area and apply it “reasonably easily”.

The court has previously heard that the two rear-seated crewmen on the day of the crash, Matthew Telford and Henry Toal, made no attempt to apply the brake and believed they could not reach it. Mr Balderstone said he was 5ft 8in tall and could reach the parking brake “comfortably”.

Solicitor General Lesley Thomson, Scotland’s second most senior law officer, who is leading the FAI, then asked if someone who was 5ft 3in tall could reach the brake – this is the height that Mr Telford gave for himself during evidence on Wednesday.

Mr Balderstone said it would be more difficult, but could not say for sure if it would be possible.

The court heard that his report recorded the brake as being 0.71m from the top of the metal bar separating the front and rear sections of the cab.

Mr Balderstone said it would be easier to reach the brake by going under the barrier, but this would be less safe.

The witness also said he tried to reach the brake lever while seated, with a belt on and this would only be possible from one seat, to the left of the driver. He said he could “just” reach the brake lever at “fingertip stretch”.

He agreed the possibility of reaching the brake lever with a seatbelt on, while the vehicle was moving, was “remote”.

The inquiry before sheriff John Beckett QC continues.