Law-breaking driver's Sunderland-bound van was so overloaded it carried the cargo of three vehicles

The overloaded vehicle driven by John William Ashton.
The overloaded vehicle driven by John William Ashton.

A van carrying frozen foods was so overloaded that the excess goods it contained filled two other vehicles.

Magistrates heard the Mercedes Sprinter van was stopped while travelling on the A19 from Middlesbrough to Sunderland in January, as part of routine checks by Durham County Council and Durham Constabulary.

The overloaded vehicle driven by John William Ashton.

The overloaded vehicle driven by John William Ashton.

The van was found to be carrying a load of 6,120kg despite only being permitted to carry 3,500kg.

When the excess load was removed, the driver had to request two extra vans to pick up the surplus items. Once the two additional vans were filled to their legal limit, there were still items remaining.

The driver of the vehicle, John William Ashton, told a trading standards officer that he was working on behalf of Ichina Wholesale Limited.

He said he had worked for the company for more than six years and had nearly 25 years’ experience as a driver.

Ashton told the officer that he had been involved in loading the vehicle and was aware of the van’s weight limits but that the vehicle had not been weighed during its journey.

He told the officer that he was glad he had been stopped as he hoped it would make his employer aware of what drivers were being asked to load onto vehicles. He claimed there were constant arguments between drivers and his employer about the loads they were expected to carry.

The council found that there was no evidence to suggest that the company had any systems in place for instructing drivers to check and weigh vehicles or to ensure that drivers understood the weight legislation.

Ashton and Ichina Wholesale Limited pleaded guilty by post to offences under the Road Vehicles Regulations Act 1986.

Ashton, 52, of Arundle Green, Middlesbrough, was fined £1,100 and ordered to pay £254 in costs and a £110 victim surcharge at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates' Court.

Ichina Wholesale, of The Old School Yard, Middlesbrough, was fined £2,200 and ordered to pay £254 in costs and a £170 victim surcharge.

In a separate case, also heard at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates Court, a County Durham man and a Wearside company also pleaded guilty by post to charges under the Road Vehicles Regulations Act 1986.

The prosecution follows a similar raft of routine checks in April, when police and trading standards officers stopped a Ford Transit van at the Wellfield weighbridge site just off the A19.

The vehicle was found to be more than 30 per cent over its weight limit, carrying 4,570kg of building materials when it was only permitted to carry a 3,500kg load.

During an interview with a trading standards officer, the driver, Norman Softley, said he was working for Fencehouses Truss Company Limited.

Softley, who told the officer he had 40 years’ experience as a driver, admitted that he had loaded the vehicle but that he had not looked into weight limits.

He said the van had not been weighed at any point during its journey from Sunderland to Hartlepool and could not recall his employer asking him to weigh the vehicle.

In mitigation, Fencehouses Truss Company said that health and safety was a priority in the running of the business, with toolbox talks outlining hazards in the workplace taking place on a regular basis.

The company said it intended to bring forward its next toolbox talk and had arranged for an external health and safety consultant to attend with a video about the safe loading of vehicles.

Softley, 62, of Portland Avenue, Seaham, said he was sorry for his actions and stated that he had now watched the video about correct loading. He was fined £440 and ordered to pay £175 in costs and a £44 victim surcharge.

Fencehouses Truss Company, of Blackthorn Way, Sedgeletch Industrial Estate, Fencehouses, was fined £880 and ordered to pay £175 costs and a £88 victim surcharge.

Joanne Waller, Durham County Council’s head of environment, health and consumer protection, said: “Weight restrictions for goods vehicles exist for the safety of all road users.

“These cases demonstrate why it is so important that companies and their drivers are not only aware of weight restrictions but that they operate within these limits.”