A BINMAN on a lorry that careered along a packed city centre pavement has told how he punched the driver as he was slumped over the steering wheel and shouted at him: “You’re killing people.”
Matthew Telford, one of three crew on the vehicle during last December’s tragedy in Glasgow, said he hit and screamed at Harry Clarke as they ploughed through the city’s Queen Street and George Square, leaving six people dead.
Yesterday, the 46-year-old was the first witness on the opening day of a Fatal Accident Inquiry, which also saw harrowing CCTV footage of the tragedy played to Glasgow Sheriff Court.
There were gasps from the public gallery as the short film showed the lorry out of control, before members of the public ran to attend to the injured. Families of the victims left the courtroom while the CCTV images were shown.
Mr Telford, who was working on the bin lorry with Mr Clarke and Henry Toal on 22 December, said the crew were on a routine round, discussing Christmas and football, when he felt the vehicle veer to the left.
He said Mr Clarke’s head had slumped to one side, before his body “slumped to the left”.
We were in quite a joyful mood because it was Christmas. We were talking about Christmas and about football. It was just an ordinary dayMatthew Telford, colleague of bin lorry driver Harry Clarke
“For a very brief moment I thought he was kidding on,” Mr Telford said. “He didn’t respond so I said, ‘Harry, what are you f****** doing?’
“I suppose a bit of panic set in and I started screaming at him. I started punching him on the back.”
After the lorry hit the pavement before striking a bin and several pedestrians, Mr Telford said he shouted: “You’re killing people, Harry.”
When the truck began striking people, Mr Telford said he was crouched behind the driver’s seat, still wearing his seat belt. He said Mr Clarke’s slumped body blocked his access to the controls.
He said: “I was just hoping that we would hit something and stop.” When the truck finally came to a halt, Mr Telford said he heard the driver groaning and he “was a shade of grey I’d never seen before”.
Neither Mr Telford nor his co-worker Mr Toal, 47, are licensed drivers themselves.
Asked by Solicitor General Lesley Thomson, who is leading the inquiry, if he felt there was anything he could have done to stop the tragedy, Mr Telford said: “I don’t think I could have done anything different but I suppose I’m always going to be asking myself that question.”
Both men said they were not aware of any issues relating to Mr Clarke’s health and would have informed a supervisor if the driver had told them of any blackouts or dizzy spells.
Mr Telford said he had received no training in what to do if someone became unwell in the lorry but that procedures have changed since the crash, with crews given daily risk assessment sheets each morning.
The inquiry opened with a minute’s silence led by Sheriff John Beckett QC, who offered his condolences to relatives of those who lost their lives.
He said: “I can only imagine the shock, pain and anguish which you have suffered following your sudden and terrible loss. I extend my sympathy also to all of those who were injured and traumatised.”
In a joint minute of agreed facts read out to the court, the inquiry heard how pedestrians aged between 13 and 81 attempted to flee the path of the vehicle, with one couple, Alexander and Maureen Anne Quinn, forced to throw a buggy carrying their three-year-old granddaughter on to the road to prevent it being struck by the lorry.
Evidence read to the court said many members of the public reported seeing Mr Clarke “unconscious” and “slumped forward”, with his hands on the steering wheel.
There was nothing to suggest the incident was a deliberate act and the inquiry heard that the mechanical condition of the truck, the road surface and visibility were not factors in the crash.
Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, died in the accident, along with Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh. A further ten people were injured.
The Crown Office ordered an FAI into the crash after prosecutors ruled there was no evidence to warrant criminal proceedings.
Sheriff Beckett offered his condolences to family members. He said: “I can only imagine the shock, pain and anguish which you have suffered following your sudden and terrible loss.
“I extend my sympathy also to all of those who were injured and traumatised.’’
The court heard that all the victims died from “multiple injuries, consistent with being struck by a large, heavy vehicle”.