Comment: High emotion at Harry Clarke’s testimony

FOR nearly four hours, it looked as if Harry Clarke’s appearance at Glasgow Sheriff Court would shed little light on the bin lorry tragedy. But on a day when detailed legal discourse gave way to high emotion, the last and most high profile witness at the FAI began to give some of the answers six families have been waiting for.

Jacqueline and Matthew McQuade, who lost their daughter Erin and Jacqueline's parents Jack and Lorraine Sweeney, at court. Picture: Hemedia

Over the course of 50 minutes at the end of his first day in the witness box, Mr Clarke recalled the moments leading up to the incident that claimed the lives of six people on 22 December last year: the Christmas lights in the city centre; the Pot Noodle he had for his lunch. But a packed Court 5 fell silent as he recounted blacking out “like a light switch” and hearing his colleague, Matthew Telford, shouting at him to wake up. The voice, Mr Clarke said, sounded like it was “a mile in the distance”.

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It was the most startling answer on a day that, at first, seemed to promise few. After an hour of legal debate between Sheriff John Beckett QC and various counsel, Mr Clarke, dressed in a dark green suit, white shirt and grey tie, emerged into court at 11.55am. Informed by Sheriff Beckett and his lawyer, Paul Reid, that he did not have to give any answers that might incriminate him in a potential private prosecution, the driver confirmed his name, age and occupation to Solicitor General Lesley Thomson. His response to her fourth question – when he started working as a professional driver – soon became familiar: “I don’t want to answer that.”

Some relatives left the court. Others sobbed or sighed. Mr Clarke gave the same reply to dozens of enquiries about his health, employment history and attendance records. After lunch, his answers became scarcer, sometimes responding: “No comment.” Other relatives stepped out, including those of Erin McQuade and Jack and Lorraine Sweeney,

Shortly after 3:30pm, however, when Ms Thomson moved on to the events of 22 December, he gave lucid and detailed responses, recounting a blocked lane on his route and his general wellbeing. “I was feeling brand new,” he said. When he came to, Mr Clarke went on, he could not recall what had happened. Asked if he knew people had been hurt, he told how police cars and fire engines had blocked his view. “I couldn’t really see anything,” he said at 4:20pm in the day’s last line of evidence, reaching for a glass of water. “But… what can I say?”