28 Aug 2015

Glasgow bin lorry inquiry: ‘remarkable lack of compassion’

Tonight in Glasgow and beyond  all the signs are that this painful and tragic accident will remain painful and unresolved in the minds of many, forever.

Perhaps this is because although the fatal accident inquiry may look like a court, sound like a court, take place in a court, it is in fact not about apportioning blame at all.

In essence a high-octane inquest, its scope and reach are limited primarily to establishing how and why people came to be killed and what can be done to stop it happening again.

Thus, the Sheriff, John Beckett made an unusual plea today after 27 days of evidence.

He appealed to all UK drivers  to contact the DVLA if they have any reason to query whether they are safe  to drive on medical grounds. Right down to steadily reading out their website address.

The families remain angry, though, that there has been no Crown prosecution of the driver Harry Clarke.

The Crown position was stated unequivocally by The Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland on camera today.

He said he can well understand the anger and frustration of the families of the six people who died and many more about this, but he said there is simply “no evidence, or insufficient evidence” to mount any criminal prosecution.

Late this afternoon, hours after the proceedings ended this morning, the McQuade and Sweeney families issued a statement expressing again their view that the Crown is wrong not to prosecute.

Their anger is compounded, they say, by the Crown failing to meet them today to explain this in detail, rather than release a press statement hours after everyone had left court. They speak of the “…remarkable lack of compassion and understanding by the Crown we have encountered since our first meeting with its representatives”.

The distress they suffered sitting through days of often painful evidence has thus been compounded by a less than ideal experience at the hands of Crown officials.

The families had reserved the right to mount a private prosecution. But Scotland has only known two such actions.

To mount one now would involve the high court effectively rejecting Crown advice that there is not sufficient evidence to convict Mr Clarke of an offence.

The chances of that happening have to be extremely remote and would take the Scottish legal system into unprecedented territory.

Harry Clarke, his lawyer submitted today, well understands the profound pain and grief of the families of the six people killed last December and the others who suffered sometimes life-changing injury. He will carry it all to his grave, as will everyone else involved, of course.

As a family lawyer said today, the inquiry exposes shortcomings in the system of allowing people to drive when medical circumstances can radically intervene.

Mr Clarke had never been told by any doctor he was unfit to drive. Equally on a number of occasions he had not disclosed medical episodes up to and including blacking out in the driving seat of a (stationary) bus.

This is by no means the first occasion where a vehicle crash remains unresolved in the minds of the relatives of those who are killed. It is a case of an ordinary man making ordinary mistakes, as Mr Clarke’s QC put it today. But it resolves very little as yet for those most painfully affected.

True, the report of the sheriff will not be published for several months. True also that private prosecution remains at least theoretically possible.

But tonight both look unlikely paths to resolution for those who feel most acutely the pain of 22 December on George Square.

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