Prosecutors blaming crash on ‘hero driver’ criticised

Maurice Willis, the driver who was crushed by his own bin lorry in South Queensferry'. Picture: Contributed
Maurice Willis, the driver who was crushed by his own bin lorry in South Queensferry'. Picture: Contributed
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A SHERIFF has criticised prosecutors for trying to blame a fatal bin lorry crash on a hero driver who died trying to save others.

Tragic 58-year-old Maurice Willis was pinned against a wall after the bin lorry he had just stepped out of careered across a main road and mounted the pavement.

Witnesses said he had tried to stop the seven-tonne truck from rolling out of the car park at the Hawes Inn pub in South Queensferry.

As put his own life on the line to protect members of the public, the truck crushed him to death, before striking buildings and coming to a rest on the edge of a pier.

The father-of-three, from South Queensferry, who worked for waste management firm Biffa, died in hospital following the accident in November last year.

A fatal accident inquiry into his death at Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard Crown claims that Mr Willis’ actions had caused the lorry to roll down a hill.

A reconstruction was carried out which suggested Mr Willis’s changing the lorry’s gear from reverse to neutral had caused it to lose balance while sitting on a gradient.

However, Sheriff Tom Welsh QC ruled it could not be proved that Mr Willis caused the accident and said it was not his job to apportion blame.

He criticised the Crown Office for presenting the evidence at the inquiry when Mr Willis’ family did not have a lawyer to challenge it.

He said: “I considered the theory was highly speculative. There was no contradictor represented at the Inquiry to test the soundness or validity of the thinking behind it.

“The procurator fiscal led this reconstruction evidence without objection. I can understand why the employer would not object to this because the sole purpose of the exercise, it seemed to me, was to establish that Mr Willis was the author of his own misfortune. Had the family been independently represented I consider this chapter of the evidence would have been objected to and I can well understand why.

“There was no evidence to establish that Martin Wolffe had any expertise in accident reconstruction. The reconstruction occurred in the presence of Health and Safety Officers and the Police, who seemed to me to be no more than passive observers.

“However, the police officer who gave evidence at the inquiry, Alan Beattie, who is the author of the police report, could not even tell me what the gradient was at the point the vehicle was positioned, as part of the reconstruction. Nor was the precise weight of the vehicle established evidentially on 22 November 2014 or at the reconstruction. Nor was the theory tested on any other vehicle for comparison.

“I formed the distinct impression the reconstruction was set up to confirm a conclusion already reached rather than to test a hypothesis. I consider this exercise was designed to establish the driver was solely or partly at fault for what happened.

“In my opinion that is not the purpose of an inquiry and the procurator fiscal ought not to have led the evidence before me, at a fatal accident inquiry. Accordingly, I was not satisfied I could make any findings at all based on the theory or the reconstruction.”

The sheriff ruled that the accident was caused because the lorry’s parking brake was off and the gear shift was in neutral, causing it to move.

However, he ruled that that nothing could have been done to prevent the accident.

He added: “To attribute blame for that state of affairs is not part of my function.”

The Crown Office has also been criticised by the families of those who died in the Glasgow bin lorry crash.

They have hit out at the decision not to prosecute driver Harry Clarke and said they were given misleading information by a Crown official.