This man should not have been tried

“ACCIDENTS don’t happen by accident”. That was the slogan that probably heralded in the age of thuggery when it came to matters of health and safety.

We are now in a double bind. The ideology is determined that we will never have the freedom to make mistakes that might involve injury to ourselves or others. But, by god, if we do make a mistake then we are going to hung out to dry.

I followed the coverage of the trial of Dublin Bus driver Kenneth Henvey. We knew the basic facts of the tragedy what happened in February 2000 but I wanted to see why this man had been put on trial.

Absolutely no serious evidence emerged. He wasn’t drunk. He wasn’t deranged. He wasn’t upset. There was nothing in his record that would have indicated anything untoward.

He could not explain what happened, why the bus had surged forward. His defence posited the possibility that the bus had an intermittent fault.

In trying to prove that he was guilty of reckless driving, the prosecution threw in that perhaps Mr Henvey had put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake. 

Of course, they were only guessing. And they might have been right. Because I’ve done it and had some very scary moments after I’ve done it. It was only luck that nobody was injured.

The reason this can happen is that cars have an inbuilt flaw that would never be tolerated if they were being invented today. The accelerator pedal is beside the brake. In modern safety engineering this is always designed out of systems. It’s called foolproofing.

I mention this only to show that even if Mr Henvey had stepped on the wrong pedal no reasonable person could have blamed him for reckless driving on these grounds. It is a normal human error regardless of how tragic the consequences were.

But there wasn’t even any evidence that this is what he had done. So you have to ask the questions: why on earth was this poor man subjected to a trial on top of the obvious trauma and distress he had already suffered? What possible good did it achieve?

The victims of that terrible day are entitled to answers. But an enquiry or an inquest could have revealed all the information that was discussed at the trial.

I wonder if they would have felt better it there had been a prosecution. I wonder if anyone would have benefited.

I don’t know how these things are decided and who says people will be tried for their mistakes. But I’m pretty sure it’s part of this ‘no risk’ health and safety culture that we have in Ireland and throughout the west today.

All the evidence from the day of the Wellington Quay crash says that it was a terrible accident. Our modern safety warriors can’t accept that. They are not programmed for that. If there is an accident then someone is to blame and someone must be punished.

This type of aggression is spreading and deepening and eating into rights and decencies we once had. Random breath testing is an example of this (institutionalised assault in my view). Watch out for more of this in the years ahead.