A waste collection company has been fined nearly £2 million after a binman was killed when he was dragged under the wheels of his runaway lorry.

Peter Coleman, 54, died after he became trapped under the rear axle of his lorry at Woodside Leisure Park in Watford in 2014.

The father-of-two from Dunstable was alone when he attempted to stop the Volvo lorry rolling down an embankment at around 6.10am on October 11.

At Luton Crown Court this morning, Mr Coleman's employers, F&R Cawley Limited, were fined £1.5 million and told to pay prosecution costs of £475,000 after Mr Coleman's lorry was found to have had two defects - a faulty set of brakes on the second axle, and a mechanism that stopped bins being lifted while the lorry was in gear had been disabled.

The company were convicted in December at Peterborough Crown Court of two charges of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Judge Mark Bishop said "proper maintenance had not been carried out" and F&R Cawley Ltd technicians' work had "not been checked".

The judge said he accepted the company, based in Luton, had strengthened it health and safety regime since the incident in Watford and there have been no further issues. But he said at the time the company’s approach had been "highly complacent with an abdication of responsibility of a supervisory role in the workshop".

Judge Bishop went on: "I do not find profit was put before safety, but there was a startling lack of insight into its own failings. The company did not take health and safety of employees insufficiently seriously."

F&R Cawley Ltd already had two previous convictions. It was fined £100,000 in October 2015 at Luton Crown Court after an employee’s arm was caught in a conveyor belt. In 2009, it had been fined at Luton Magistrates’ Court when the metal door from a skip fell onto a driver’s head.

F&R Cawley said: "This was a tragic incident and the company has offered its deepest condolences to Peter Coleman’s family. We take our responsibilities for our employees, their families and the local community very seriously."

Pete Coleman

Pete Coleman

Mr Coleman, who had worked in refuse collection for 20 years, was trapped under the lorry, which caught fire, "for some considerable time" before being airlifted to hospital where he later died.

At an earlier hearing, prosecutor Vivek D’Cruz said while Mr Coleman was operating the bin's lift in a refuse area at the leisure park, the vehicle started to drive itself, and as he went to chase the vehicle, he fell and became caught under the wheels.

The prosecutor said the risks were "entirely preventable" because there were two serious defects - the brakes on the second axle provided no brakes at all and a mechanism that prevented the bin lift being operated when the vehicle was in gear had been disabled.

Judge Bishop praised a police officer called PC Griffiths-Jones who stayed with Mr Coleman until he could be freed from under the burning lorry.

Judge Mark Bishop said the officer showed "humanity and bravery" by staying with him while the lorry was on fire, saying he had faced a "challenging and difficult situation" and had "acted in the highest traditions of public service".

The judge praised Mr Coleman’s family, saying: "They have suffered enormous loss and the court extends our deepest condolences to them.

"I pay tribute to their dignity throughout these proceedings. The sentence I pass cannot ever give them back what they have lost."

In a tribute statement, Mr Coleman's wife Beverley and their children Lisa and Paul said: "Pete was a devoted family man who had a lot to live for. He always worked hard whatever the job. His life was worth so much more than the trivial amount it would have cost Cawley’s to repair the vehicle and make it safe and roadworthy.

"He fought hard to survive the torturous incident, and although it has taken a long time, justice has been served. Thank you to everyone who helped Pete in his time of need.

"This story hasn’t finished yet. The prosecution team can now look at the issues that have been raised by Pete’s death. In particular, they will be looking at improving industry guidance on training drivers what to do in the event of roll-away or runaway vehicles and the importance of checking emergency interlocks as part of the maintenance regime.

"We can finally begin to grieve."

Justine Hoy, head of community protection for Watford Borough Council, said: "Following a police investigation, a coroner’s inquest and our own detailed investigation, we proceeded with this prosecution against F&R Cawley Ltd based on evidence indicating serious issues with the condition of Peter’s vehicle and the practices of the company.

"We are committed to taking action wherever and whenever it is necessary and we hope that this case will help to prevent other deaths in the future."