Dunlop in 'faulty tyres cover-up'

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The tyre manufacturer Dunlop was criticised yesterday by a High Court judge for covering up 300 incidents involving a faulty brand of tyre, which caused at least one fatal motorway smash.

The firm, which last week agreed to pay pounds 597,000 in compensation to a family injured in the crash, withheld information about the defect from Department of Transport officials investigating two other fatal crashes.

Judge Kenneth Wilson- Mellor, QC said firms should "take reasonable care" to protect public safety if faults are discovered.

He said Dunlop should have issued safety warnings and notified the DoT about a fault in its SP4 tyre, which led to a fatal crash on the M4 motorway near Swindon, in July 1988.

Lolita Barclay, 12, died and four others were injured when a Ford Cortina ploughed into an Austin Princess containing a family on the first day of their summer holiday. Susan Carroll was left blind, disfigured and mentally impaired by the crash.

Her husband, Alan, suffered a punctured lung and their children Catherine, then 14, and Stephen, then nine, were seriously hurt. Last Friday the family from Grove, near Wantage, Oxon, was awarded pounds 597,000, after suing Dunlop.

During the hearing it was revealed that the puncture was caused when the tyre's rubber tread stripped away from its steel bonding. Dunlop admitted knowing of the defect in 1981 but claimed the blow out was caused by the tyre being driven too fast whilst worn and under-inflated. Judge Wilson-Mellor ruled Dunlop was 80-per-cent liable for the accident.

The judge said Dunlop, which sold its tyre manufacturing division to a Japanese firm, SP Tyres, in 1985, never fully investigated the problem.

During the five-week court case the judge heard evidence from Dunlop's claims' assessor, David Paine, that there had been claims of more than 300 similar accidents involving tread stripping from the SP4 tyre between 1985 and 1989. These, the judge said yesterday, were covered up. Management had advised Mr Paine to withhold information from the DoT.

The judge said: "The Department of Transport wrote to Dunlop asking for reports on these cases, and for a report of other cases of tread-stripping occurring to Dunlop tyres.

"These letters referred to Mr Paine who answered the first by repeating his view that the relevant tyre had failed for reasons unconnected with any defect . . . His management required him, in effect, to cover up information included in his schedule of claims."