A CORONER today criticised BMW and the government’s driving agency for failing to take sufficient action over electrical faults in the German manufacturer’s cars before they caused the death of a Gurkha veteran.
Narayan Gurung, 66, of Aldershot, died after driving his Ford Fiesta into a tree on a dark road in Hampshire on Christmas Day 2016 to avoid a car that had cut out because of a total power failure, Woking Coroner’s Court heard today.
Surrey assistant coroner Anna Loxton criticised the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) for failing to press BMW for a recall of up to 370,000 cars in the UK, despite envisaging the ‘exact circumstances’ of the former soldier’s death 10 months earlier.
She will issue a prevention of further deaths notice in writing to transport secretary Chris Grayling and DVSA chief executive Gareth Llewellyn over her ‘serious concerns’ with the agency.
Mrs Loxton said she agreed BMW was ‘negligent’ in its actions and the DVSA expressed ‘indolence’, but could not conclude Mr Gurung, pictured, was unlawfully killed, because there was insufficient evidence of corporate manslaughter.
Instead, she recorded a narrative conclusion criticising the car manufacturer, its UK importer and the agency for recognising during a meeting on February 26, 2016 the risk of a power failure on an unlit road.
‘Despite recognising this risk, the DVSA failed to call for, and BMW AG and BMW UK failed to initiate, a recall until after Mr Gurung’s death,’ she said.
She criticised the DVSA for having no protocol for investigating safety-related defects quickly, having no guidance to interpret its own codes of practice over safety defects and for lacking critical analysis of the defect.
She said the agency had been aware of a fault since October 2014, when it started to receive an ‘unusually high’ volume of complaints from drivers, but it did not make a ‘fundamental shift’ until after the veteran’s death.
The DVSA failed to recognise it as a safety defect and accepted BMW’s case that drivers would get a prior warning before a complete failure and even closed down investigations.
Father-of-three Mr Gurung, who served with ‘exemplary’ conduct in the British army regiment for nearly 20 years, was driving with his wife to the Royal Surrey County Hospital, where they both worked as housekeepers.
A colleague’s BMW had stalled on the Hogs Back road after suffering a ‘total electrical failure’. He tried to put on his hazard lights but they failed because of the lack of power.
As it was before sunrise, Mr Gurung was unable to see the vehicle until the last moment, when he swerved and hit a tree. He was pronounced dead at the scene owing to multiple traumatic injuries, the coroner concluded. His wife was seriously injured.
Mrs Loxton said the BMW’s driver had no reason to expect a total power failure while driving.
Gurung family solicitor Emma Potter said the case raised ‘critical questions’ about vehicle safety in the UK and hit out at BMW for failing to recall the cars sooner.
‘This delay ultimately contributed to Mr Gurung’s death,’ she said.
BMW said it would ‘reflect’ on the coroner’s criticisms, adding: ‘Safety is of paramount importance to BMW – nothing comes before this.
‘Whilst BMW considers that it has followed all the processes required by the relevant regulations, we recognise the need for the automotive industry to review relevant processes and procedures.’
Last month, the company widened its recall of vehicles at risk of electrical faults to include 312,000 UK cars, including BMW 1 Series, 3 Series, Z4 and X1 petrol and diesel made between March 2007 and August 2011.
Picture: Family handout/PA Wire