Garda says Navan crash scene had an 'air of unreality'

A court has heard that the first garda who arrived on the scene of the crash in which five Meath schoolgirls were killed described it as having "an air of unreality" with children walking around screaming and talking on their mobile phones.

Sergeant Alf Martin who arrived at the scene four miles outside Navan within nine minutes of the accident said it was quite obvious that the five young girls trapped under the bus had lost their lives.

He said another teenager remained trapped under the bus and the first priority of emergency crews was to rescue her and remove the deceased.

Mr Brendan Grehan SC, prosecuting, said in opening the sentence hearing before Judge Patrick McCartan that the prosecution of Meath County Council, Bus Eireann and Keltank Ltd arose from a "comprehensive investigation" into the accident. Keltank Ltd pleaded guilty on day four of the trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one charge in relation to the matter in which another company, McArdles Test Centre Ltd of Dundalk, was acquitted by the direction of Judge McCartan.

Sonya Kelly, company secretary, pleaded guilty on behalf of Keltank of Balgriggan that being aware that ABS sensor leads were disconnected in the fatal bus, it failed to ascertain whether a hazard arose as a consequence thereof before returning it to the driver, Mr John Hubble, on May 5, 2005.

Bus Eireann had pleaded guilty on the day of the trial at Trim Circuit Criminal Court on March 6, 2006, that it failed to ensure that school bus was maintained in a safe condition in that the ABS system was not working on the vehicle and it failed to instruct driver, John Hubble, in relation to ABS.

Meath County Council also pleaded guilty at Trim Circuit Criminal Court that it failed to prepare a Health and Safety plan for the construction work at the site and that it failed to appoint a project supervisor in relation to the works.

Mr Grehan named the five schoolgirls that were killed instantly that day in what he described as a "tragic road accident". They were Claire McCluskey, aged 18, Deirdre Scanlon, aged 17, Lisa Callan, aged 15, Aimee McCabe, aged 15, and Sinead Ledwidge. Another 46 schoolchildren, a motorist in a vehicle involved in the collision and Mr Hubble were injured.

He said that the accident happened at 4.17pm on May 23, 2005, after the vehicle veered into oncoming traffic after it skidded when Mr Hubble applied the brakes to stop at a set of temporary traffic lights positioned after a "slight bend in the road".

A counter flow traffic system had been put in place and a one-way system was in operation. There had just been a heavy downpour of rain.

Mr Hubble who was described as "an experienced driver" who had been on that route for eight or nine months, applied the brakes once when he felt the vehicle shudder.

He applied the brakes a second time, when it veered onto the right hand side of the road, lost control and hit one vehicle that then hit the car behind it. It continued to rotate "like a farm gate on its hinge" before it ended up in an embankment and tumbled onto its side.

The large windows in the bus smashed and the schoolchildren were thrown out of the openings. They were killed instantly when the vehicle fell on top of them.

Sgt Martin told Mr Grehan (with Mr Remy Farrell BL and Jonathan Kilfeather BL) that he also had a responsibility to ensure that no unauthorised personnel intruded on the scene and he was conscious that the children's parents would be arriving.

A field hospital was set up outside a local man's, Gerry Lardner's home and he ensured that all the injured teenagers and people concerned about their children's welfare were directed their as soon as possible.

The hearing continues before Judge McCartan who has been given temporary jurisdiction over the Eastern Criminal Circuit to deal with the case.

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