Legionnaires’ outbreak: Family’s grief one year on

Rena MacDonald is still waiting for answers about Bert Air's death. Picture: Toby Williams
Rena MacDonald is still waiting for answers about Bert Air's death. Picture: Toby Williams
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THE grief-stricken family of the first person to die as a result of last year’s legionella crisis have revealed that they are still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

Bert Air passed away in June last year, aged 56, hours after being rushed to the Royal Infirmary. He was the first of three people to die as a result of contracting legionnaires’ disease, and it is believed he became infected while working on a building site in Gorgie.

More than a year on, his partner of 12 years, Rena MacDonald, and two of his siblings said they cannot begin to put the tragedy behind them until they know what caused Mr Air’s death, and are furious at the way they have been treated.

They said the authorities have not been in touch for months and that Mr Air’s mother, 83-year-old Hannah, had died broken-hearted in December after giving up on life following the devastating news of her son’s death.

Ms MacDonald, 55, said: “No-one in the family can get closure until we know what’s happened. I don’t know if I’ll be relieved or angry when we get the results, but we need to know. I’m just angry at the moment. The last letter I had was six months ago. I don’t know how they think people can accept what’s happened and not want answers.

“For me, his brothers and sister, there’s a part missing.”

Sandra Somerville, Mr Air’s younger sister, said: “It’s been horrendous, and we’re still going through it. It should never have happened to a guy his age. The only thing he had was high blood pressure. Then all of a sudden he was gone..

“Me and my three brothers had to go in to Astley Ainslie Hospital and break the news that he’d passed away to my mother. She just burst out crying saying ‘my laddie, my laddie’. She just gave up towards the end.”

The 50-year-old added: “I went on holiday to Tenerife, I thought it would make me feel better, but I just couldn’t stop crying. I just feel like we’ve been totally ignored.”

Mr Air’s younger brother, 55-year-old John, also expressed frustration. He said: “It’s been more than a year and we feel nothing’s been done.”

A interim report into the outbreak is due to be made public by NHS Lothian this month, although it is understood key information on the source of the outbreak will not be included as a police and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation, under direction of the Crown Office, is ongoing.

David Bell, a senior solicitor with legal firm Irwin Mitchell, is representing Mr Air’s family as well as several others affected by last year’s outbreak. He said: “We have been pressing for findings to be made available, or at least a cogent explanation as to why they aren’t available. We’ve been bashing our heads against a brick wall.

“We are finding it very, very frustrating. We’re now more than a year down the line. During other outbreaks results have been made available within weeks or a few months. We understand an investigation is ongoing but that does not justify the complete wall of silence. The victims feel they’ve been sidelined and neglected.”

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman, on behalf of the HSE, said: “Investigations are in their concluding stages and reports are being prepared.”

A Crown Office spokesman said: “The circumstances of the legionnaires’ outbreak in Edinburgh are the subject of a highly complex ongoing investigation by the enforcing authorities for Health and Safety legislation, in liaison with COPFS.

“The families of those who died continue to be updated on significant developments.”