Ewan Williamson death: Fire service faces charges

Ewan Williamson. Picture: complimentary
Ewan Williamson. Picture: complimentary
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THE Scottish Fire Service is facing two health and safety charges over the death of firefighter Ewan Williamson at the Balmoral Bar in Dalry in 2009.

An application by the Crown Office was granted at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today.

It is alleged the fire service breached Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Although Mr Williamson was a Lothian and Borders firefighter at the time of his death, the new national force is now responsible for any alleged criminal offences which took place even before it was established.

The 35-year-old died while on duty as he battled a fire that broke out at the bar on Dalry Road in July 2009.

Today, the News told how Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack was urging the head of the new fire service, Alasdair Hay, to resolve a long-running investigation into the tragedy.

Mr Williamson’s family is pursuing £700,000 in damages over the case, claiming problems with the way the fire was tackled contributed to Mr Williamson’s death.

The former Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Board denies negligence.

Ms Boyack had earlier sought assurances from Mr Hay that the new fire service will work with the COPFS to resolve the case swiftly.

In a letter sent yesterday, she wrote: “Almost four years have passed since Mr Williamson’s death, and I am deeply concerned that as long as the case remains unresolved, there can be no closure for the family or for his friends or his colleagues. We need transparency on the lessons that can be learned from this tragic incident.

“To that end, I am urging the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to act to follow up the previous work by Lothian and 
Borders Fire and Rescue Service to bring about a swift resolution to this case.”

Mr Williamson had been in one of two breathing apparatus teams sent into the pub at 12.46am.

The crews were unable to find the fire and returned outside to change breathing canisters before going back in. Mr Williamson failed to return the second time, with his body later found in a toilet having suffered burns and extreme heat.

The firefighter’s mother, Linda, 69, and his sisters, Rachel, 45, and Rebecca, lodged a compensation claim at the Court of Session in Edinburgh in September last year.

They have alleged watch commander Tim Foley did not recognise a warning of a potentially very dangerous “backdraught” fire.

Solicitor Syd Smith had previously said the family’s case could be put off if the Crown confirmed its intentions following the conclusion of a joint investigation by police and the Health and Safety Executive.

A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said the former service had co-operated fully with the “lengthy
and exhaustive” joint 
investigation.

The spokeswoman said: “We are not in a position to progress proceedings in relation to a police inquiry or bring about a resolution. The locus for that rests solely with the Crown Office.

“As such it would not be appropriate to comment further on this incident or matters under consideration until the outcome of the due legal
process.”