THE handbrake on a police van that rolled down a slope and killed an elderly man in a Leeds park was faulty, an expert told an inquest today.
Donald Bennett, 83, who was sitting eating an ice cream, suffered fatal injuries when he was dragged under the runaway vehicle shortly after PC Claire Bugler parked it.
She claimed she had left the handbrake on as she got out to attend a disturbance at Pudsey Park in June 2013.
David Foster, a forensic collision expert for North Yorkshire Police, said in his opinion she had only applied the handbrake on the 6th or 7th notch instead of the highest 10th.
He told the inquest jury: “If the handbrake had been put up to number 10 then, in my view, the van would not have moved.”
But he added that he found corrosion on the brake components which would probably have affected the parking of the van.
He told Wakefield Coroner’s Court that the lower slider on the right hand rear brake of the police van had been corroded.
He said: “As a result of the corrosion on the lower slider of the right rear brake, heat had been generated within the brake.
“Therefore, when the handbrake had been applied, it had been done with the brake pads being hot.
“Within a short space of time, especially if the handbrake had not been applied fully, there would be sufficient cooling for contraction of the brake disc which would lead to the release of the handbrake clamp and allow the vehicle to start to move forward, particularly as it was on a slope.”
Asked by a member of the jury when checks had last been completed on the van, he said that the left rear brake pads had been replaced only three months before the accident.
He said: “When the brake pads had been changed on the rear left side, in my view, the corrosion on the brake system on the right side would have been visible and it should have been detected.
“If had been detected, the brake pads should have been changed.”
Mr Foster also found discrepancies between the handbrake’s effectiveness on two separate tests after the incident.
When testing the handbrake’s capability to stop the van on the day of the accident, Mr Foster explained that, when applied on to the 6th notch, the van began to move.
He said: “When I applied the handbrake in to 7th notch on the day of the accident the threat of vehicle movement was immediately apparent.
“When it was put onto the 6th notch, the vehicle started to move immediately.”
However, during a reconstruction test over a month later, Mr Foster explained that he got a completely different outcome.
He said: “In the test in July, the handbrake was markedly improved.
“From the second notch onwards, the handbrake was holding and the vehicle wasn’t moving.”
Mr Foster put this down to “self-adjustment” of the handbrake.
He said: “I believe that the handbrake had gone through a self-adjustment when it was driven to Pudsey Park on the date of the reconstruction in July.
“It should have self-adjusted on the day of the accident and early corrosion evidence within the handbrake component could perhaps explain why it didn’t; however, that is more reasoned thought than substantial evidence.”
Explaining his belief about events, Mr Foster said: “It is clear that the officer had parked the van with the handbrake on.
“What cannot be assessed is whether it had been applied to its maximum or the maximum that PC Bugler could have applied.
“It is my view that PC Bugler did not put the handbrake on to its fullest extent.”
The inquest continues.