Alison Hume inquiry: Corporate manslaughter charge not ruled out

PROSECUTORS have not ruled out Scotland’s largest fire brigade facing a charge of corporate homicide following the death of Alison Hume, the mother-of-two who fell down a mineshaft.

Strathclyde Fire and Rescue has been fiercely criticised for being too slow to rescue Mrs Hume when she fell 46 feet down a mineshaft near her house in Galston, Ayrshire, on 26 July, 2008.

Mrs Hume became hypothermic while she lay helpless at the bottom of the 50ft pit. Above ground, firefighters, who wanted to come to her aid, were told not to do so, as senior officers decided to follow guidelines that ruled out carrying out risky line rescues.

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Yesterday, a Crown Office insider said: “A charge of corporate homicide is possible, but we are not in a position to speculate yet on what the Crown may or may not do.”

Individual fire commanders at the scene could also face criminal charges.

This week, a report by Scotland’s HM Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Authorities said there was “an inexplicable lack of focus” on the need to pull her to the surface quickly.

According to the report, group commander Paul Stewart made a decision that the crew should not enter the collapsed shaft, believing that Police Mountain Rescue would arrive in 40 minutes.

Mrs Hume’s family and politicians have called for the resignation of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue’s most senior firefighter, chief officer Brian Sweeney.

Yesterday, politicians were adamant that Mr Sweeney, who was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal for his leadership during the Stockwell plastics factory explosion in Glasgow in 2004, should not be put in charge of Scotland’s new single fire service.

Willie Coffey, MSP for Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley, said: “The creation of a single fire and rescue service in Scotland will be a significant – but vital – step in delivering a 21st-century service for Scotland, and it will take a strong leader to oversee this. Given that an independent inquiry has just been so overwhelmingly critical of the management style and leadership at Strathclyde, it really is difficult to see how anyone could have any confidence in Mr Sweeney being in charge of this process.”

The Fire Brigade Union Scottish secretary John Duffy said yesterday the creation of a single force was the ideal opportunity to end the “piecemeal” training of specialised rescue techniques.

For example, line rescues were not taught in Strathclyde until recently, while, according to Mr Duffy, water rescue training is not done in Grampian and Fife.

A Crown Office spokeswoman said: “The report will be fully considered by the procurator fiscal at Kilmarnock as part of an ongoing wider consideration of the circumstances.”

Strathclyde Fire and Rescue would not comment on the possibility of prosecution.