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Published: 3 April 2008
Adventure Care Ltd directors Helen Slater and Garry CodmanAdventure Care Ltd directors Helen Slater and Garry Codman
‘Yes, we sent Salma out in a car with defective tyres,’ admit care directors

Inquest hears how schoolgirl died in crash after being sent to Derbyshire by social services

THE car carrying schoolgirl Salma ElSharkawy and her care worker on the day they died in a crash had been marked out as a safety risk due to defective tyres, an inquest has heard.
Garry Codman, the director of Adventure Care Ltd, the private care home where Camden social services placed 12-year-old Salma, gave the all-clear to staff to use the vehicle that crashed into a tree last July 3 killing the Haverstock pupil and her care worker, Elizabeth Fitton, 23.
Mr Codman and fellow director Helen Slater spoke publicly for the first time about the accident at the hearing at Chesterfield Magistrates Court on Thursday.
Coroner Tom Kelly, recorded a narrative verdict that Ms Fitton and Salma died from injuries sustained in the collision on a country road in Millers Dale, Derbyshire, close to where Adventure Care is based.
Ms Slater, who set up the company in 2000, said Salma “loved Beth”.
She told the inquest: “I accept the tyres were defective and not safe.”
Nick Stannage, representing Ms Fitton’s family, asked her: “On a wet day you will have been sending the vehicle out in dangerous conditions and likely to have an accident?”
Ms Slater replied: “I accept that.
“Not a day goes past that I’m not sorry for that.”
She said staff now use a tyre checker to measure the tread.
Relatives of both Salma, from Gospel Oak, and Ms Fitton, who lived in Buxton, Derbyshire, said they were disappointed with the inquest and say there are still unanswered questions about the tragedy and the procedure which saw Salma sent to the home.
Salma’s mother Mary O’Sullivan said: “Everyone at Adventure Care stuck together. Salma should never have been sent there.
“It’s just a private home. Camden should have tried to work with the family and let her come home.
“I don’t know how they sleep at night.”
She added: “Salma would have been here now if they had listened to her.
“She always said ‘never stop fighting for me’. I want to fight for Salma because I want to fight for those that are never listened to – children in care.”
Salma, who had a history of running away from foster parents in Camden, and Ms Fitton, who was driving, died when the Peugeot 206 swung out of control on a country road in Derbyshire, smashing into a tree.
The car’s petrol tank burst into flames on impact.
The inquest heard that despite staff carrying out periodic checks on the car, and two staff reports in May 25 and June 8 noting the front tyres’ treads were too shallow, they were not replaced.
Instead the car’s owner, Mr Codman, who admitted he had no formal expertise in inspecting tyre depths, ran his fingers over the car tyres, gave the all-clear and suggested the situation be monitored.
Adventure Care Ltd received £3,000 a week from Camden to look after Salma.
The company has already been prosecuted through the criminal courts for using a car with defective tyres and was fined £4,000 in January.
The inquest heard how staff care worker Kirsty Hall checked the Peugeot on May 25, noting on a checklist “tyre depth needs looking at, maybe changing soon, two front tyres”.
Days later, on inspecting the car again, she noted: “Two front tyres bald!!!”.
Mr Codman said his duties did not include dealing with the vehicles, although the car was registered in his name.
He said: “The only part I played was to check the tyres. Just a visual check, I ran my hand over them. I can’t remember what I said. I thought I said it was ready for changing but I can’t remember.”
Centre manager Lynn Allen said: “I heard there were problems with the tyres. I spoke to Garry Codman. He said he would go and have a look at them, came upstairs and said ‘they are OK, they are on their way and need watching’. We don’t have individual risk assessments other than the checklist.”
Carlton Sargeant, 46, who witnessed the crash, said: “I was aware the car was somehow 5ft in the air, it hit a tree, there was a loud noise and a bright flash from the inside of the vehicle. As it hit the tree it burst into flames.”
Police collision investigator PC Richard Bell said: “It’s not possible to state categorically why the driver of the Peugeot lost control but it’s likely to have been due to a combination of factors: the weather, the road surface, the vehicle conditions, defective front tyres.”
He said the tyre tread was “visibly below the legal limit”.
Ms Fitton’s father, John Fitton, said he is planning to appeal against the Health and Safety Executive’s decision not to take action against Adventure Care.

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