Inquiry launched after woman in M9 crash dies

Lamara Bell who was found in a crashed car that had gone off the M9 near Stirling. Picture: Hemedia
Lamara Bell who was found in a crashed car that had gone off the M9 near Stirling. Picture: Hemedia
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THE government has ordered an urgent review of all police call-handling in Scotland after the death of a mother who spent three days lying in a crashed car next to her dead boyfriend.

She was only found in the car alongside her dead partner, John Yuill, 28, on Wednesday, about 72 hours later, despite the accident having been reported to police on the day it happened.

Her emotional brother, Martin Bell, confirmed yesterday morning in a Facebook post: “My sister just passed away.”

Ms Bell had been in a medically induced coma at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, having suffered kidney damage from dehydration after lying in the wreckage for so long. She died at about 6:50am yesterday.

Scotland’s justice secretary Michael Matheson has formally directed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) to undertake an urgent review of all police call-handling.

He said he had made the decision after a discussion with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The HMICS review will focus broadly on call-handling procedures.

It comes in addition to an ongoing independent inquiry specifically into the M9 incident by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC).

Mr Matheson extended the condolences of the Scottish Government, the First Minister and himself to both families and said answers were needed “quickly”.

He said: “This independent review will provide the Scottish Government with an accurate picture of capacity and capability at present, and clearly identify any issues so they can be promptly remedied.

“This will assist in providing assurance around the operation of call-handling within Police Scotland’s contact, command and control centres. On completion, the report will be submitted to ministers who will consider its recommendations.

“This will be a thorough and speedy review that will help to ensure that the people of Scotland can have full confidence in this vital public service.”

Police Scotland’s Chief Constable, Sir Stephen House, last week apologised to the relatives of the two crash victims and admitted that information received about the crash had not been entered into police systems.

Some reports claimed staffing shortages had led to someone without enough experience writing call details on paper and passing that to a civilian to enter into the computer system.

Sir Stephen said he welcomed the HMICS call-handling review, adding that he had asked Mr Matheson to initiate it.

He said he was “deeply saddened” by news of Ms Bell’s death and went on: “In light of recent tragic events, Police Scotland need to be able to reassure the Scottish public that we have both the capacity and the capability to deal with their calls to us, both in an emergency on 999 and in our 101 service.

“We will continue to co-operate fully with the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner as they undertake their investigation into the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

Mr Yuill, who was a father, was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.

The couple had been reported missing after visiting Loch Earn in a blue Renault Clio.

It emerged that a member of the public had contacted Police Scotland at about 11:30am on Sunday, 5 July, to report that they could see the vehicle down an embankment near the M9 slip road at Bannockburn.

The call was answered, but “for reasons yet to be established” it was not entered into police systems and no action was taken at the time.

The car was found when officers were called to the scene by another member of the public on Wednesday.

Numerous tributes to Ms Bell have been posted online and Mr Yuill’s family have spoken of their devastation following news of the second death.

A statement from the Bell family requested privacy and said: “Sadly, our daughter has passed away.”

Mr Yuill’s relatives said: “The family of John Yuill would like to say that their prayers and thoughts are with Lamara and her family.

“We are devastated by the sad news this morning.

“The families have messaged each other this morning and our thoughts are with John and Lamara’s children at this very sad time.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has said the case for a wider investigation was becoming “unanswerable”.

The MSP said workload pressure on the police service had been “immense” since the reorganisation of the service – a move which included the centralisation of police control rooms.

Paying tribute to Ms Bell, Mr Rennie said: “Her father’s bedside singing and her family’s publicly expressed anguish were clear manifestations of the love they felt for Lamara.

“We all feel terribly sad that her life has ended and in this awful way.

“Whilst her family and friends grieve for Lamara, it is now our duty to find the answers that everyone is seeking.”

Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “The second death in relation to this incident really increases the pressure on Police Scotland and the Scottish Government.

“They both assured the public the 101 number was working well and there was nothing to worry about, despite police officers telling a different story. This tragic incident proves that not to be the case.”

The HMICS review follows pressure from opposition politicians for a wider inquiry into the operation of the police force in light of the incident.

A spokesman for the PIRC said: “The commissioner will rigorously pursue a full independent investigation to establish the circumstances of what happened and will focus on why a telephone call made to Police Scotland three days earlier, which reported their car was off the road, was not followed up.

“The commissioner will also examine the robustness of Police Scotland’s missing person inquiry and look at why that inquiry was not linked with the information received in the call, while examining the police procedures used to log this particular call made from a member of the public.”

The spokesman added: “Given the early stage of inquiries, it is inappropriate to speculate as to what the outcome will be.”