Maida Vale pensioner died after Age Concern bus crash

88-year-old broke her neck in the accident which judge ruled was the fault of staff failing to properly secure her

A wheelchair-bound Maida Vale pensioner died in a horrific crash after Age Concern Westminster failed to secure her properly in a minibus, a court heard today.

Olive Sarti, 88, suffered a broken neck after being thrown from her chair when the driver braked sharply to avoid hitting a pedestrian and she died three months later.

Untrained staff had failed to use equipment that would have secured her and increased her danger by allowing her to face the front of the bus, the Old Bailey heard.

Concluding that a severe fine would badly damage Age Concern services, Judge Michael Lawson fined Age Concern �10,000 and ordered them to pay �5,000 costs.

The court heard that Ms Sarti regularly refused to leave her wheelchair and belt up in an ordinary seat but staff did not enforce a policy forbidding travel unless passengers were strapped in.

The bus had been taking a group of elderly members to the Elgin Day Care Centre on Elgin Avenue on September 20, 2006.

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Age Concern’s Westminster branch last month pleaded guilty to a charge of breaching its duty to avoid exposing its passengers to health and safety risks.

Judge Lawson said: “Had Ms Sarti been properly restrained by equipment which was in the bus and had her chair been facing backwards it is unlikely she would have suffered such severe injuries or any at all.”

Ms Sarti, who suffered from dementia, disliked being secured in her chair, as did several elderly people helped by the charity.

The judge added: “It is probable that staff trying to provide a helpful, supportive and relaxed atmosphere did not wish to insist that she was properly restrained or refuse her permission to travel unless she was.”

Health and Safety Executive prosecutor Harriet Bathurst-Norman said Age Concern’s local staff had admitted never having used the correct equipment for securing wheelchair users before.

“It certainly seems that, from what the escort says, he and others weren’t aware it was there and hadn’t received training to alert them to it,” she said.

“This fatality was foreseeable and avoidable.

“What is clear is that, on the day of the fatal incident, nobody from Age Concern Westminster insisted that the vehicle stop until Ms Sarti was in an adequate seatbelt.

“Additionally, had the chair been facing backwards at the time of impact, that would have prevented Ms Sarti from being thrown off in the way that she was.

“Training given to staff was totally inadequate for the safe transport of wheelchairs and their users.”

Mohammed Haque, defending, said Age Concern, which are now called Age UK after merging with Help the Aged, had expressed their “genuine and sincere remorse”.

“The staff were truly devastated by what happened to Ms Sarti,” he said.

“She was a friend and a much loved friend for the seven years they knew her.

“If Ms Sarti’s family were here I would look them in the eye and say sorry to them.”