Tony boyle has published around 50 papers, articles and book chapters and he is the author of the ‘standard’ text on health and safety risk management, published by Routledge. Tony has worked on a number of expert witness reports, including the Potters Bar derailment. He is currently working with a major multi-national client helping them improve the way the audit and measure safety performance.
Where I fit into the Hastam team.
I was one of the founder members of Hastam and took on the role of Managing Director in 1987. As Hastam grew, we recruited a new Managing Director in 1991 and I became Chairman. However, my main interests are health and safety consultancy and research – not running a business – so in 1999 I reverted to being a freelance consultant and a Director of Hastam. And that is still what I am, nearly twenty years later.
The majority of the founder members of Hastam were employed in the Health and Safety Department at Aston University but I was running my own software company at that time. This was more than thirty years ago and in those days you could buy what was then called a microcomputer, write a useful program in a few weeks, and sell it to anyone who had the same type of microcomputer. It was not the Apple or Microsoft choice we have now – there were many microcomputer manufacturers and programs written for one machine would not work on the others. Things only started to become standardised when IBM Personal Computer (PC) was introduced in 1981.
I had started my business using the Commodore Personal Electronic Transactor (PET) . This was an interesting machine because the whole top lifted like a car bonnet and, like a car bonnet, there was a shaped metal rod to hold the top up. This was needed because you had to get at the innards to insert and remove various chips, and to program using banks of micro-switches. I switched to the IBM PC as soon as it became available in the UK!
While I was running my software company I was also doing an MSc in Intelligent Systems at Brunel University. This is now known as the branch of artificial intelligence concerned with using computers to solve problems, programs usually referred to as expert systems.
Through Andrew Hale, I was asked by to write an expert system for the Health and Safety Department at Aston. This system was to help people with the Notification of New Substances Regulations. Which is how I came to be hanging around Aston University at the time Hastam was being formed in 1984. Hastam began as a loose association of consultants but as the amount of work increased things needed to be more formal and this led to my appointment as Managing Director in 1987.
Most memorable Expert Witness case.
My most memorable expert witness case was the Potters Bar train derailment. I was instructed by Christian Khan solicitors who were acting for families of the deceased.
It was memorable for several reasons.
I prepared a detailed expert witness report on the safety management system aspects of the Potters Bar and Grayrigg derailments. This report was well received by counsel for the families of the deceased who said it was ‘devastating’ and by Richard Booth – who peer reviewed it for me.
I subsequently gave evidence on the penultimate day of the coroner’s inquest and a transcript is in the public domain.
Again counsel were complimentary ‘even more devastating in person’.
However, it was a small matter that really made this job memorable. I had never attended a coroner’s inquest before – let alone given evidence at one – so I decided to go on a day before I was due to give evidence to find out what it was like.
I was very glad I did this because the setup was large and complex and I think I would have been overawed if my first experience of it had been when I atarted giving my evidence. There was seating for spectators along two sides of the very large room in which the inquest was being held and I sat down to listen to what was going on. After a few minutes I was told, very politely, that I was sitting in an area reserved for relatives of the deceased and I was asked to move. I, of course, moved to another section of the seating and watched the proceedings from there.
The small matter that really made this expert witness job memorable was that after I had given my evidence, which was extremely critical of many aspects of the health and safety management of those involved, I was approached by a person who asked me to take a seat in the area reserved for relatives of the deceased.
Advice to solicitors regarding Expert Witness.
Do not underestimate the importance of a site visit. There are psychological reasons why a site visit is important and these are to do with people’s visual imagery. When most people read a description of a location or an activity they will form a mental image of what that location or activity looks like.
However, everyone’s mental image will be different. This can result in discussions between, for example the expert witness and the solicitor, or two expert witnesses, being effectively about two different locations or activities.
In addition, people vary in how powerful their mental imagery is.
At one extreme there are people whose mental imagery is so strong that it overrides their judgement. I have watched interviews being carried out by people with this sort of mental imagery. During one accident investigation interview the interviewer told the person who had had the accident that they could not have seen what they were reporting because there were trees in the way. This despite the fact that the interviewer had never visited the site of the accident.
At the other extreme there are people who have no visual imagery at all. I am one of these – when I close my eyes it is just black, whatever I think about. I did not know there was such a thing as visual imagery until I heard a lecture about it at College. People with no, or weak, visual imagery have an advantage in that they do not create false images, but without a site visit they have no image at all.
Photographs and video clips can help but they are not a good replacement. I can remember several expert witnesses cases where I would have come to different, and less appropriate, conclusions had I not visited the site.