Louth test centre acquitted on bus crash charges

A County Louth test centre has been acquitted on charges arising from the investigation into the fatal bus crash in which five Meath schoolgirls were killed on May 23, 2005.

Judge Patrick McCartan withdrew the case of McArdles Test Centre Ltd of Dundalk from the jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court following an application by defence counsel, Mr Roderick O'Hanlon SC, and directed that verdicts of not guilty be recorded on the two charges faced by the company.He told the jury that the evidence of Wesley Finlay, a DOE tester with McArdles had "very much put a spanner in the works and in my mind, undermined the prosecution's case".

He said it was obvious from Mr Finlay's evidence that the date on the charge, should have been March 4, 2005, the day he carried out the original DOE test , and not March 15, 2005, when his only responsibility was to recheck for those items that had failed the original inspection.

Judge McCartan reminded the jury that Tony Wynn, a senior vehicle tester with the Department of Transport, had said the fact that a test centre's only responsibility on the re-test date was to check those failed items.

He said that the accused was entitled to the benefit of the doubt in any criminal trial and although the prosecution did throw up many doubts, it was his belief that Mr Finlay's testimony showed-up "inherent contradictions in the prosecution case".

Judge McCartan thanked the five men and seven women of the jury "deeply" for their involvement in justice being done and excused them from further service for 10 years. It was day-six of the hearing.

Mr Joe McArdle, a director, had pleaded not guilty on behalf of McArdles, to two charges of failing to note the ABS warning light on the bus wasn't operational while conducting a vehicle test on March 15, 2005, two months before the tragedy.

A second company, Keltank Ltd of Balbriggan, pleaded guilty on day day-four of the trial, and its case is due for mention tomorrow when it is expected that a sentence date will be set for it.Keltank pleaded guilty through Sonya Kelly, company secretary, that being aware that ABS sensor leads were disconnected it failed to ascertain whether a hazard arose as a consequence thereof before returning the bus to the driver, Mr Hubble, on May 5, 2005.

The case of Bus Eireann which has pleaded guilty to charges arising from the investigation into the crash is due for mention next Tuesday at Trim Circuit Criminal Court.

Mr O'Hanlon had asked for the case aganst McArdles to be withdrawn on the basis that March 15, 2005, as per the charges before the court was not the relevant date because it was on this date that Mr Finlay had simply re-tested previous fail items.

Counsel argued that Mr Finlay was correct and not in breach of any guidelines by doing so and that if the State wished to prove that he had failed to notice that the ABS warning light was not operational on the vehicle, the correct date on the charge should have been March 4, 2005.

Mr O'Hanlon also argued that McArdles was not responsible for the vehicle once it was out of its control or off the premises in Dundalk and thus when the vehicle crashed on May 23, 2005, eight days after it was last at the test centre, McArdles was not at fault.

Judge McCartan acceded to Mr O'Hanlon's application to withdraw the charges and said that Mr Finlay's testimony "that the ABS warning light had to be working on the vehicle on March 4, 2005 because otherwise I would have failed the bus for road worthiness", threw "considerable doubt" on the prosecution's case.

He said that although three mechanics from Keltank testified that the ABS warning light never worked on the bus they accepted in cross-examination from Mr O'Hanlon that they could not state what kind of condition the vehicle was in when it was tested by Mr Finlay in March 2005.

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