‘They’ve got away with murder’ says widow of man who died after Legionnaire’s outbreak

Jennifer Lonnie wants answers about the death of husband John. Picture: Neil Hanna
Jennifer Lonnie wants answers about the death of husband John. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE grieving widow of a man who died in Scotland’s worst outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease is considering legal action to find out who was responsible for his death.

John Lonnie, 65, was the third person to die of the disease in Edinburgh in the summer, and his widow, Jennifer, is planning to challenge the official “wall of silence” with a civil claim to determine who is to blame.

Her solicitor is also calling for a change in Scots law to address the “appalling waste of time and money” that can leave relatives waiting years to find the truth about a loved one’s death.

Two other people, Robert Air, 56, and an unnamed man in his 40s, died, and more than 100 people were treated for confirmed or suspected cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Edinburgh between May and July. Yet despite calls for a public inquiry, the source of the disease remains unconfirmed.

Mrs Lonnie, 65, is this week leaving the Edinburgh home she shared with her husband of 42 years to live with relatives in England because the memories are too painful.

“They have got away with murder,” said Mrs Lonnie. “I have never been told why John died. I have never been told who was responsible. I have been told it could be years before we finally get an answer.

“This is not just me – his 92-year-old mother, his children and grandchildren also have to live with it. He has two great grandchildren who he has never seen. This is heart-breaking for all of us.”

Mrs Lonnie is also angry that the health minister at the time, Nicola Sturgeon, said Mr Lonnie had underlying health issues at the time of his death. She believes this was a breach of confidentiality, as she did not give her permission to release any medical details.

Up until now, Mrs Lonnie has not spoken publicly about her husband’s death, but she feels she needs some answers 
before she leaves to go and live in England “to get away from this”.

The Legionnaires’ outbreak is being investigated by 
Lothian and Borders Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), under the direction of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

But David Short, partner at the Edinburgh law firm Balfour & Manson, who is representing Ms Lonnie, believes Scots law should be brought into line with English law and the HSE should be given the power to prosecute.

“Scotland’s Health and Safety Executive should be doing the prosecutions, as in England and Wales,” he said. “Having the fiscals dealing with it is appalling waste of time and money. This also has a massive impact on families who have to wait sometimes three or four years to find out what has happened to their loved ones, and whether anyone is to be prosecuted.”

Mr Short is looking at a potential civil claim to determine whoever was responsible for not cleaning out cooling towers which led to the outbreak.