A6 trailer tragedyfamily’s call for “fulland fearless” inquest

Date: Friday 17th May 2019

A CONTAMINANT in the hitching mechanism of a trailer was the “probable cause” of a tragic collision which killed a 25-year-old Penrith woman on the A6 near Shap, an inquest heard this week.

Rebecca Quail, of Eamont Mews, died when her Citroen car was hit head-on by the front of the trailer transporting a mini-digger when it became detached from a works van.

The collision occurred 550 metres south of the entrance to Shap Pink Quarry at 8-29am on 15th March, 2017.

Miss Quail, known as Becca, was on her way to work as a senior teaching assistant at Sandgate School, Kendal, for children with special needs.

Travelling in the opposite direction was Stewart Hamilton, a clean water engineer employed by T&K Gallagher, working as a sub-contractor for United Utilities.

Mr Hamilton and colleague Daniel Bannon, who was following behind in a pick-up truck, were on their way to a job in Penrith.

Mr Hamilton said, having negotiated about 11 miles of the “challenging” A6 road without incident, he went around a bend when he heard what he described as a “bone-chilling” crash.

“I looked in my right hand mirror and the trailer was in the middle of the road. The car (Miss Quail’s) was on the verge,” said Mr Hamilton. He said there was a bang at the back of the van before the crash, but he did not see the trailer become detached.

Before setting off from the Kendal yard, Mr Hamilton had used a digital app to report a slow puncture on the trailer’s passenger side rear tyre and that the winder for the jockey wheel — which is used to lift the trailer up and down — had come off. A screwdriver was used in its place and air was put into the deflated tyre at a supermarket.

Mr Bannon, who had guided Mr Hamilton back to couple the trailer on to the van before they set off, said that before the accident there was a “small explosion at the back of the van” where the trailer had been connected.

PC Anthony Winter, a forensic collision investigator, said that after the trailer had detached the A-frame nose hit down on to the carriageway. He suggested that the “explosion” described by Mr Bannon was probably the noise of the frame hitting the carriageway.

Investigations carried out by police found the tow ball, which had been placed in the tow hitch, showed signs of corrosion and had not been greased.

PC Winter said the conclusion that contamination was the probable cause of the detachment was arrived at following the exclusion of everything else. However, it was not known what the contaminant was or how much there was.

He said the trailer defects were “not contributive” as the tyre deflation, which was recorded at the scene, was very slight. Normally, a tyre had to be underinflated by 50 per cent before police prosecuted.

The inquest was told it was also probable that the trailer was slightly overweight on its front axle, but this did not meet the evidential test for prosecution.

As a result of the incident, T&K Gallagher, which has a fleet of more than 600 vehicles, recalled every trailer and carried out additional checks.

In addition, as well as a visual test to make sure the ball hitch was correctly in place, the company’s operatives now also have to test the jockey wheel to ensure the coupling is sound and a photograph has to be taken of it.

Simon Thicke, Miss Quail’s long-term partner, paid tribute to her, saying he had never met a more generous person. “She was the most special person I will ever know,” he said.

Mr Thicke said he wanted the coroner to carry out a “full and fearless” inquest into what had happened in order to find some kind of closure — not just for the family, but “for Becca” as well.

Born in Penrith, she lived for the first 11 years of her life at Threlkeld, where she attended the village primary school, before the family moved to Penrith and she attended the town’s Ullswater Community College. After taking A-levels, she trained to become a special needs teaching assistant and started work at the school in Kendal, where she was quickly promoted to the role of senior teaching assistant. She had a huge impact on both students and staff and her many achievements included helping to develop a sensory hub at the school.

Her father, HGV driver Brian Quail, said: “I miss her. She was a lovely girl. You could not wish for a better daughter.”

Damien Quail, her brother, said: “She was amazing and had such a bright future ahead of her. She was loved by everyone and we are really struggling as a family (to come to terms with what has happened).”

The inquest, which was being overseen by coroner Kirsty Gomersal, was due to conclude yesterday, but it might be the end of the month before a verdict is known.