THE Archbishop of Glasgow has told how he wept with a woman who saw her teenage daughter and both her parents die “almost right in front of her” as he led a special service in honour of the victims of the bin lorry tragedy.
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia said the woman and her family were left in tears by the “abyss of their loss” after student Erin McQuade and her grandparents Jack and Lorraine Sweeney, all from Dumbarton, were fatally injured in the accident.
Jacqueline McQuade is thought to have gone to withdraw money from a cash machine during the Christmas shopping trip when her 18-year-old daughter and parents were struck by the out-of-control bin lorry.
Primary teacher Stephenie Tait and tax worker Jacqueline Morton, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, from Edinburgh, were also killed when the council truck mounted the pavement before crashing into the side of the Millennium Hotel in George Square.
Archbishop Tartaglia told a memorial mass at Glasgow’s St Andrew’s Cathedral of the “panic and chaos, shock and sorrow” that was caused by Monday’s tragedy.
He added that instant had transformed the city from one “eagerly and cheerfully preparing for Christmas into a city of sadness and mourning”.
A 14-year-old girl is seriously ill as a result of the crash, one of five patients still being treated in hospital.
‘Can you imagine her sadness?’
The teenager is being cared for at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where her condition is said to be ‘serious but stable’.
Three women aged 18, 49 and 64 and a 57-year-old man - thought to be the driver - are all said to be in a stable condition.
More than 600 people packed into the cathedral for the service, where prayers were said for all those who had been affected.
Scottish Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson and Sir Stephen House, the chief constable of Police Scotland, were among the congregation, along with Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran.
Archbishop Tartaglia said: “On the evening of the tragedy, I was privileged to be permitted to spend some time with one of the families who had been cruelly devastated by the incident.
“I was able to witness and share the grief and sadness of a mother and of a father for their daughter, and of two daughters for their mother and father.
“The distressed woman to whom I was speaking had been at the incident, she had seen her daughter and her own parents killed almost right in front of her. Can you imagine the horror? Can you imagine her sadness?
“I tried to console them and comfort them. We spoke and we cried and we were silent before the abyss of their loss and the random meaninglessness of what had happened.”
The archbishop said that Glasgow was “reeling from this latest sad and sudden tragedy”.
‘Our city of Glasgow is in mourning again’
A total of ten people were left injured when the bin lorry veered out of control outside the Gallery of Modern Art at about 2.30pm on Monday.
It struck a pedestrian before continuing up Queen Street and hitting several other people, only coming to a halt when it crashed into the hotel.
The incident happened less than 13 months after the Clutha disaster in the city claimed the lives of 10 people when a police helicopter crashed into a crowded pub.
In his sermon, the archbishop said: “Just over a year ago, we had the Clutha disaster, and now we have this George Square tragedy when a heavy refuse lorry ran out of control, killing six people and seriously injuring 10 others. By all accounts, it was an horrific incident.
“Just as we were preparing for Christmas, our city of Glasgow is in mourning again.”
He said the “bereaved and devastated families may not feel the joy of Christmas because of their deep sadness and distress” as he spoke of their “grief, their bewilderment, their anger, their desperation, their unanswered questions”.
He added: “I wish I could take all that away, but I can’t and I know that my words are inadequate.”
Papal nuncio ‘conveys Pope’s ‘spiritual closeness’
A number of messages of condolence were read out at the service, including one from Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the papal nuncio to Britain.
He said he had “heard the news from Glasgow concerning the tragic accident which took place on Monday and killed six persons while injuring many others”.
Archbishop Mennini added: “On behalf of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, I wish to express sympathy and to convey the spiritual closeness of the Holy Father to all those persons involved and to their relations and friends along with the assurance of his continuing prayers during this holy season, and my own too.”
The family of 51-year-old Ms Morton told how they had been “deeply shocked and saddened about the tragic accident on Monday culminating in the loss of our Jacqueline”.
In a statement from her partner John, her sons Adam and Scott and the rest of her family, they said: “We would like to pass on our thoughts and prayers to other families affected by this tragedy.
“We would like to pass on our thanks to the people who got to Jacqueline first and also to the emergency services at this difficult time.”
Mr Sweeney, 68, was a former president of Bramalea Celtic supporters’ club in Canada.
The club put a statement online expressing ‘great shock and sadness’ about his death, along with his 69-year-old wife and teenage granddaughter.
Miss McQuade was a first-year student of English literature at Glasgow University and worked at Cameron House Hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond, where she was described as ‘’one of our brightest and dedicated members of housekeeping staff’’.
Ms Tait, 29, was a primary school teacher at St Philomena’s Primary in Glasgow, where head Catherine Gallagher said the ‘entire school community is deeply saddened by this tragic news’.
She described the dead woman as “an excellent young teacher, dedicated to the children” and said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends at this time.’’
Ms Tait had studied at Glasgow University, where principal and vice-chancellor Professor Anton Muscatelli said they were ‘deeply saddened’ to learn of the death of one of their current students and a graduate.
‘Thorough and exhaustive investigation’
Police Scotland have again appealed for those who might have footage of the incident to send it to them, as they pledged there would be a ‘thorough and exhaustive’ investigation into the crash
Detective Superintendent Andy Gunn, senior investigating officer, said: ‘’The events in Glasgow on Monday were devastating, for the families and friends of the victims who lost their lives, for those who were injured, the local community and beyond.
“I would like to reiterate that there is nothing to suggest this was a deliberate or malicious act.
“However, there is a significant police investigation ongoing into the circumstances which led up to the crash, which claimed the lives of six people.”
He added: “’The investigation will be thorough and exhaustive as we gain an understanding of the circumstances of Monday’s events and will continue in the coming days and throughout the festive period.
“The investigation will take as long as is required and we will ensure all lines of inquiry are investigated before we report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.’’
Anyone with footage is asked to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile a council fund for the victims’ families has been opened for public donations.