Bittersweet memories as Clutha bar re-opens

FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday pulled pints behind the Clutha Bar to mark the re-opening of the Glasgow pub where 10 people were killed in a helicopter crash more than 18 months ago.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attends the re-opening of the Clutha Bar. Picture: John Devlin

The bar’s owner, Alan Crossan, said it was a “very emotional” day and hoped it could mark a “start to the process” of bringing closure to those affected by the tragedy.

Lawyers representing the victims of the disaster on 29 November 2013 described the pub’s re-opening as an “important step forward” for the city, but warned the continued wait for answers is preventing families from being able to move on from the crash.

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Ms Sturgeon and Mr Crossan led a minute’s silence in tribute to those who lost their lives when the Eurocopter EC 135 helicopter crashed on to the Stockwell Street building.

Addressing the reception afterwards, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m very, very aware that although we’re in a sense celebrating tonight - it’s a happy occasion, the re-opening of a famous Glasgow institution - this is also a night that is tinged with real sadness.”

Mary Kavanagh, 60, who lost her partner, Robert Jenkins, in the crash, recalled escaping the pub in the moments after the incident, only to realise Mr Jenkins was not behind her.

“I was standing outside the pub for about half a minute when I started seeing people with head injuries and collapsing in front of me,” she said. “I tried to help them but I realised that Robert wasn’t coming out. That’s when I broke down.

She added: “I see coming back as part of the process of closure. It’s been very difficult to reach that point.”

After the reception, the venue re-opened to the public at 8pm when, in keeping with its tradition as a popular live music venue, local band Black Triangles played a set.

Mr Crossan said: “It is very emotional - today is the day we give the Clutha back to Glasgow. Hopefully this can be a start to the process of bringing closure for the people affected.

“The music is coming back to the Clutha and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped us or thought about us over the past 600 days.”

Since the crash, the interior of the old pub has remained sealed off, but a new bar has been erected in the Clutha’s former smoking area. The exterior of the building has been redecorated with a mural of famous former customers of the bar, including Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty.

Mr Crossan, 62, added: “The set up is a temporary solution but I felt we had to do something to help everyone affected by this. I’ve always said the Clutha wasn’t about bricks and mortar, it was about the people, the music.”

Pilot David Traill, who was attached to the Police Scotland air support unit, and police constables Tony Collins and Kirsty Nelis were killed in the crash, along with six others in the pub - John McGarrigle, Mark O’Prey, Gary Arthur, Colin Gibson, Robert Jenkins and Samuel McGhee.

Another patron of the Clutha, Joe Cusker, was pulled from the wreckage alive but later died in hospital. An initial report said the aircraft suffered engine failure. The final conclusions of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch are expected to be released imminently.

Elaine Russell, a partner at Irwin Mitchell Scotland, who is acting for the victims, said: “Glasgow has had to endure some incredibly difficult tragedies in the past couple of years and the re-opening of the Clutha pub is both an important step forward and testament to the strong community spirit within the city.

“While it is both a chance to remember the past and also look to a brighter future, it should be remembered that all of those who were injured or lost loved ones in the crash are still awaiting answers regarding what caused the helicopter to come down in the busy city centre on a Friday night.”

She added: “All of those we represent are still trying to come to terms with what they have been through or the loved ones they have lost and are unable to move on with their lives without any further information.

“We are continuing to work to ensure they get access to the financial support they deserve following this crash.”