A BUS provider which was responsible for getting hundreds of children in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire to school has been shut down after significant vehicle safety concerns were raised.

Denwell Coaches, which operates from Royal Wootton Bassett, covered around 300 school children and provided routes from the Swindon and Cirencester areas to many schools in places including Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud. 

But in a recent decision published at the end of January, traffic commissioner Kevin Rooney has stripped the firm, led by sole director and transport manager Darren Brown who took over the business in 2021, of its transport license after discovering a series of alarming and dangerous defects and practises. 

A DVSA maintenance investigation took place in August 2022 carried out by vehicle examiner Gary Beck "found systems to be unsatisfactory" and a follow-up investigation throughout July to September 2023 discovered that things had worsened despite assurances from the owner improvements would be made.

Consequently, Mr Beck called for a public inquiry into the business as well as an investigation into Mr Brown's professional competence.

In his findings, Mr Rooney stated Mr Brown had grown the size of his operation rapidly, delegating responsibilities to other members of staff but not providing supervision or oversight, and leading to staff shortages. 

Mr Rooney also found that Mr Brown had lied about the number of his buses that had passed MOTs, pointing out that the company's 45.95 per cent fail rate is far above the national failure rate of 7.35 per cent. 

These failures all happened despite "aggressive inspections" from mechanics beforehand.

For example, one vehicle was presented for MOT in July 2023 with an insecure brake calliper and with a bolt missing, with Mr Rooney saying "There was no excuse for that coach. The mechanics should have not sent it like that. "

It was pointed out that many drivers were not recording defects which included a door-sensitive edge, damaged emergency exits, missing break-glass hammers, and out-of-date fire extinguishers. 

"I find it hard to believe that so many professional drivers would choose not to report such dangerous matters as have gone unrecorded here. It may be that they do not do so because the chance of anything being done about them is quite low," Mr Rooney said.

He references one coach which had an ABS defect that was reported half a dozen times that Mr Brown has dismissed as a "disgruntled employee recording imaginary defects" before later conceding it was a real defect caused by flood damage. 

In 2022 and 2023, it was discovered that maintenance records were out of date, reports had not been signed off as roadworthy but vehicles had still nonetheless re-entered service and some defects which were marked as advisory but were actually prohibitable. 

As a result, Mr Brown is disqualified from acting as a transport manager for one year starting from, March 31, 2024, after which he must get recertified. 

In his damning appraisal of Mr Brown's management of the transport firm, Mr Rooney concluded: "Two matters tip the scales against Mr Brown. The first is his insistence on blaming others for his own misfortunes, whether that be drivers, fitters or managers.

"All come in from criticism from Mr Brown who fails to acknowledge that, as director and transport manager, it is his job and his responsibility to ensure that the operation is compliant. He may delegate tasks, he cannot delegate accountability.

"The second is the fact that the operation became significantly worse following the first DVSA investigation with assurances given not delivered."

Mr Rooney was also asked to consider a period of grace but replied: "It is entirely inappropriate to allow a highly non-compliant operation to continue without professional competence. The risk to road safety is just too high."