Veteran binman, 61, crushed to death by his lorry in tragic accident at school

A binman was crushed to death by his own lorry after the handbrake was not put firmly on as he emptied bins at an independent boarding school, an inquest heard.

Andrew Betts was four days away from his 62nd birthday when he was killed at Benenden School near Cranbrook in Kent, on November 25, last year.

The hearing was told Betts, known to his friends as Andy, was just one handbrake click away from safety.

Betts, had been driving the refuse truck before climbing out to help a colleague when the vehicle, which had been parked on a slight incline, began to roll forward.

The lorry rolled into a hedge, catching Betts between the cab door and the vehicle's frame.

The keen darts player died instantly as a result of massive chest injuries.

Betts had previously played for the Kent county team and was a contestant on TV darts show Bullseye.

Princess Anne was a pupil at the independent boarding school for girls, while other former Benenden students include TV presenter Amanda de Cadenet, socialite Lady Victoria Hervey and actresses Rachel Weisz and Ellie Kendrick.

Police investigators found the ratchet-style handbrake had only been applied four clicks up when five would have held the vehicle at the top of the 4.7 degree incline, the inquest heard.

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Staff shortages also meant the supervisor was on an active round rather than based in the office as he should have been, the hearing was told.

PC Robin Youngs, a police forensic investigation officer, examined the vehicle after the tragedy and told the inquest at the Shepway Centre, Maidstone, that there were no mechanical defects with the 7.5-ton Isuzu collection vehicle.

But he pointed out that the handbrake – similar to that found in most cars – had been applied one click from safety.

Subsequent tests by PC Youngs showed that five clicks on the handbrake would have been sufficient to hold the vehicle in place, the jury was told.

PC Youngs also tested to see if vibration from the engine – which had been left running in order to power the hydraulic lifts at the back of the vehicle – or the operation of the bin lifts could have caused the handbrake to slip off a notch, but he concluded this was not possible.

The officer examined the tachograph of the vehicle and determined it had been stationary for 19 seconds before beginning to roll.
It reached a speed of 13mph, but there was evidence the footbrake had been applied just before impact.

Although there were no witnesses, the court concluded Mr Betts had descended from the cab, but once it began to roll away had run alongside and leaned in an unsuccessful bid to stop the vehicle by pushing the foot-brake by hand.

Mr Betts, of Tonbridge, Kent, initially got out of the vehicle to help his loader – Edward Sheldrake – the only other member of the crew.

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Assistant Coroner Alan Blunsdon heard evidence that although Mr Betts was fully qualified to drive the vehicle and extremely experienced, it was not his job to do so.

As a supervisor with waste contractor Urbaser, his main role was to schedule staff to the various rounds and on that morning another driver, an agency worker named Mark Rabbett, had been due to drive the 7.5-ton narrow-access vehicle on Round six, the area around Cranbrook.

In a written statement read to the inquest, Mr Rabbett described how Mr Betts had reassigned him to a different round that morning because of staff shortages, with Mr Betts deciding to drive the round himself.

It is believed Mr Betts made this decision because Round six was the shortest round and so could be completed more quickly allowing him to return to base to continue his other supervisory duties.

Usually there were two loaders but, again, because of staff shortages there was only one on duty that day.

Questioned by William Irwin, a barrister representing Mr Betts' family, Mr Sheldrake said for six months Urbaser had made no changes but then had "completely altered all the collection routes".

He said: "Most of the new rounds were too big for anyone to complete. You'd end up finishing Monday's round on a Wednesday."

He added the company's policy had initially been "wait and see", hoping crews would speed up as they got used to the new routes, but eventually the firm had to introduce a lot more collection lorries and hire more staff.

But he said shortages of both drivers and loaders continued because, by then the pandemic started and caused more shortages.

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The jury also heard from Urbaser's assistant service manager Patrick Hopkins that the vehicle driven by Mr Betts was unusual in still having a ratchet handbrake.

The majority of vehicles in Urbaser's fleet were fitted with air brakes for both the foot pedal and the parking brake.

They also had alarms that sounded if the cab door was opened with the parking brake not fully activated, but Mr Betts' vehicle had no such alarm.

After hearing the evidence, the jury concluded the death was the result of an accident.

Expressing his condolences to Mr Betts' widow Lesley and his daughter Laura, Mr Blunsdon said he had been "a very brave man trying to repair the situation".

He added that he would consider whether it was necessary for him to write a report giving advice that might help prevent future accidents after considering written submissions from Mr Betts' family and Urbaser's legal team.

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