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Written by Aaron Brigatti  
Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Yes I know I sound like a broken record, but it's now been over 4 years (March 2006) when I experienced my infamous (and as Renault labelled it "unique") bonnet-catch failure incident, where the manufacturer lay blame at my door for causing it! Almost a slanderous comment!

So I continue my grievances to VOSA (given up with Renault - who are sticking firm, with their head in the sand, that is!) and now onwards and upwards to my MP, the Transport Minister and now the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO).

My previous post was the responses I received, notably how the PHSO advised that they didn't seem to feel that VOSA had acted outside of their remit or dishonourably - but I started to identify a few flaws behind their decision - so had penned an correspondence asking for a review of the decision. Almost a "complaint" about a "complaints" department(!) - Nice, hey!?

So here it is...

Dear Ms....

I understand that there is need to outline my points on why I feel the decision reached by the PHS Ombudsman is incorrect.

I have outlined these points to your Assessor, Mr Driscoll, previously and during a telephone conversation with him, but will summarise these for your benefit in this correspondence.

1. The PHSO advised that VOSA based its investigative decision on the fact that “fault was not caused by a safety-defect in the design on construction of the bonnet catch, but was caused by a lack of the required maintenance of the part; or the failure to close the bonnet correctly, or a combination of both.”

  • This is the key reason why I feel that there are inaccuracies in the review completed by PHSO and as such invalidates the decision.
  • The safety-catch mechanism in question was designed and constructed as one that does NOT required maintenance, so when this status changes it signifies a defect in the way the mechanism is constructed and designed.
  • The PHSO decision was based on a maintenance condition when no actual maintenance was required on this particular mechanism at the time of my incident (in 2006).
  • My recommendation: the PHSO decision should be based on whether the design and construction specification has changed (maintenance-free to maintenance-required is core to this)? Are Renault able to define this particular component as maintenance-free and still be considered safe (and fit for purpose) at the time of my incident?

2. PHSO has advised that VOSA and the Manufacturer can adapt processes quickly (changes to the owner manual and servicing plans).
  • The conditions of this particular incident seems to include media pressure, and as such could influence whether the correct due process is followed or not by both organisations.
  • Any remedial steps do not remediate the cases where incidents have already happened. Does this mean that a safety defect exists if such remediate actions was deemed necessary?
  • My recommendation: PHSO need to assess whether the correct remedial processes were followed by VOSA, why were action steps implemented if a safety defect didn’t exist? Note: the communications weren’t enforced or managed by VOSA – instead it was a reaction from the manufacturer due to the public media, if there was no public / media focus from programmes, such as BBC Watchdog, I do not believe a “PR communication campaign” would have been initiated by the manufacturer or VOSA, because Renault conditioned my case as “unique”.

3. PHSO has advised that an “Advisory” communication was sent to the vehicle owners, however such PR communications is not the correct course of action.
  • VOSA felt that this was an “informal safety recall” – there is no such thing, a safety recall either exists or doesn’t. A formal safety recall is one that requires continuous remedial communications and actions to be addressed across the whole owner base, until a time that VOSA is comfortable that the satisfactory level of preventive (risk mitigation) actions has been implemented (i.e. majority of the vehicles have been inspected and risk mitigated).
  • Advisory communications are not enforceable nor are the responses monitored by VOSA, so should not be referenced as to how VOSA performed in this case.
  • My recommendation: PHSO need to review why VOSA did not follow the correct safety recall communications process as set-out within its own Code of Practice. This was a reactive communication PR media campaign (not a safety recall campaign) and does not appear to follow the correct safety defect enforcement procedures. If the correct process was followed then the defect should have been listed on the EU RAPEX database as part of the EU safety defect mandate. Most importantly, why did the ‘reassurance’ communications stop in 2007, even though cases continue to be reported up to the current day (even after an inspection was completed by the manufacturer), which continued to be reported to VOSA, but were not investigated further by the organisation.

4. PHSO inferred that Renault’s acceptance that the maintenance-free part suffered from corrosion and that Renault did not want this report shared to the public, which was endorsed by VOSA is acceptable.
  • Can a VOSA investigation be performed transparently without advising to the claimant the root-cause of the defect? Is VOSA’s remit to be transparent with a need to undertake an investigation with integrity?
  • Because VOSA did not undertake the investigation, is it acceptable for VOSA to allow the manufacturer to mark the report as “confidential” without the need to publish it to the claimant who filed the original case? Is this an acceptable course of action for a transparent and impartial safety investigation carried out by a Government body?
  • My recommendation: PHSO to review whether VOSA have the correct authority to manage such defects, possibly signifying that the safety enforcement mandate is not strong enough, if the manufacturer can shy away from a potential safety defect. VOSA should have investigated why the manufacturer did not want the subject of “corrosion” being made public (which signifies a potential safety defect)? What were the manufacturers concerns and why did VOSA allow this “lack of transparency” to happen? VOSA did nothing to enforce the publication of the report findings. PHSO should review these points – the admission by Renault that corrosion was evident on the safety mechanism of my vehicle at the time of the incident would mean it should be considered as a safety-mechanism part-failure, and one that could possibly be the root-cause of why the mechanism failed on my vehicle at the time of the incident. PHSO need to confirm whether VOSA investigated the feasibility of me driving for 4 weeks without neither of the bonnet catch mechanisms secured? And if maintenance was a contributable factor by Renault / VOSA, whether this meant that a safety defect exists in the safety-mechanism functionality.

5. PHSO inferred that one of VOSA’s roles is as a “road safety standard enforcement” agency and they could have enforced the replacement of unsafe-catch mechanism across the affected Clio vehicle base.
  • VOSA chose not to do so; the part-replacement was not enforced in all cases.
  • VOSA allowed the manufacturer to follow a very ineffective (and “informal”) advisory communication process to respond to the Media/PR and Public outcry.
  • My recommendation: PHSO to investigate why some road safety enforcement processes were not actioned by VOSA. The main concern is that the manufacturer’s investigation seems to be biased and does appear to shy away from any admission of a defect (even though their report infers a change in the design/manufacturing standards). Contrary to this, there are additional reports completed by independent engineer’s inspections of damaged vehicles and insurance companies which counter this claim by Renault. Now either Renault’s investigation is wrong (which VOSA ‘rubber-stamped’) or further investigations are required into the root-cause (which VOSA will not endorse). We cannot have two different statements here – one signifying a safety defect and one that doesn’t. VOSA did not inspect ANY damaged vehicles, but somehow agreed with the manufacturer’s findings, having only ‘discussed’ the matter with the manufacturer. PHSO has noted that VOSA do not have the mandate the complete any inspections and therefore the outcome of VOSA’s investigation is satisfactory for one that could have endangered the lives to anyone who experienced these incidents (they were life-threatening cases!).

In summary, to outline why a further review maybe required:
  • “Maintenance” can only be used as a reason behind a potential case if maintenance was required in the first place – this was not the case of the parts in question.
  • Renault did not want their internal investigation findings to be made public? VOSA accepted that Renault did not need to publish the findings of their safety report – into a complaint that a member of the public filed to VOSA. Is this the correct notion of a safety investigation when VOSA and Renault do not need to publish a report to the claimant?
  • VOSA did not follow the correct communication or safety enforcement procedures as set out in their own code of practice.
  • If the 3 elements of the “safety defect” definition are valid in the case of the “bonnet safety catch mechanism”, why didn’t the Safety Defect process get triggered or enforced by VOSA?
  • If this whole matter is not a safety recall, then why was there a need to provide any reassurance to the owners and advise that there was a change in the servicing programme (the parts now needed maintenance (which were designed as “maintenance-free” in the first place))? Seem to be a PR-reassurance campaign and nothing to do with the safety notion of the issue in hand, with an underpinning message that they will communicate the safety defect informally as a “side-point”.
  • The most important consideration – this matter could risk injury or death to the vehicle occupants. This itself should signify that the necessary safety defect processes should be enacted to prevent such life-threatening cases. PHSO should review the case based on this notion, in accordance to VOSA’s Code of Practice, and whether there is a wider issue with the safety procedures on the UK Roads. Why were some “bonnet safety catch failures” in the past deemed as a ‘safety defect’ (Alfa Romeo 156) whilst the Renault Clio Mark-2 didn’t seem to follow the same conclusion. Two different decisions on what ultimately was the same design / part-construction flaw.

My concern is that because the definition of a safety defect has not been accurately interpreted by Renault, VOSA and PHSO, with inaccurate decisions and statements makes it very difficult for us to accept the integrity of each organisation that has now looked into this matter. If you can review the decision based on my observations above, hopefully you are at the very least confirm whether my statements are invalid or has no bearing on your ultimate decision.

I trust this is sufficient for you to review the decision reached by your Assessor and then you can advise me the course of action that you intend to take relating to my referral.

I do apologises for the length, but the key points here are very contentious and why the members of the public believe that there is a core issue with how road safety standards are managed and defects investigated (I do accept these are key issues for Parliament to address). The issue here is that the MPs in question, up to the Minister for Transportation, have not looked into this matter comprehensively, and I do feel this is something which could be recommended by the Ombudsman to ensure the Clio Bonnet road safety defects are fully mitigated once and for all – and enforceable with potential fines to the manufacturer. Until then, please be assured that we will continue to hear of reported cases on what appears to be a dangerous vehicle on the UK roads, which VOSA seems to accept is not an issue for them.

Thanks for your time and support and I look forward to hear from you.


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