Fire chief finally says sorry over Alison

A FIRE service chief last night finally apologised to the family of Alison Hume as the First Minister announced that another inquiry is to be held into the incident that led to her death down a mine shaft.

Brian Sweeney, chief officer of Strathclyde Fire & Rescue, made the apology to the family of the mother-of-two who died after an attempt to rescue her from a disused mineshaft was delayed by senior fire officers.

It came on the same day that Alex Salmond announced at First Minister’s Questions that another inquiry is to be held into the incident that saw the 44-year-old lawyer develop hypothermia when she spent eight hours down the pit in July 2008.

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Mr Sweeney’s words came after Mr Salmond’s spokesman said the First Minister believed that Mrs Hume’s bereaved family were “entitled to an apology for their loss”.

Mrs Hume suffered a heart attack and eventually died in hospital after she was extracted from the collapsed shaft in Galston, Ayrshire.

Earlier this week, a fatal accident inquiry found that Mrs Hume’s death might have been avoided if certain “reasonable precautions” had been taken.

Sheriff Derek Leslie concluded that the rescue attempt was delayed by senior fire officers who showed “rigid compliance” with official health and safety procedures.

Although Strathclyde Fire & Rescue said Mrs Hume’s death was a “source of enormous regret”, the service had stopped short of a full apology when the sheriff’s determination was made public on Wednesday.

Mrs Hume’s family was highly critical of the role played by senior fire officers and last night Mr Sweeney relented and apologised to them.

“For the sake of clarity, I would like to reiterate our deep and profound regret over this incident; and for the avoidance of any doubt, to apologise to Alison’s family and friends for its tragic outcome,” he said.

The apology came four-and-a half-hours after Mr Salmond had said that there will be an immediate inquiry into the incident conducted by Steven Torrie, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Authorities.

Responding to a question from Willie Coffey, SNP MSP for Kilmarnock and Loudon, Mr Salmond said given the “serious nature” of Sheriff Leslie’s findings the inquiry would be held under section 44 of the Fire Act Scotland 2005.

“He [Mr Torrie] will carry out a comprehensive inquiry and the report is then laid before this parliament. It would then be for ministers to decide what direction, if any, can be made under the powers provided by the 2005 act.”

He added: “This is the most serious nature of action that can be made by ministers under the legislation. I think the circumstances of the case reflect it and require it.”

He went on: “I would just add, however, that there is nothing in Sheriff Leslie’s determination which questions that the firefighters and fire officers on site – every single one of them – had the aim and intention of rescuing Alison Hume.

“There is nothing in the determination to deflect from the general admiration and support that we give the fire services and our other blue-light services, who do such a fantastic job on Scotland’s behalf.”

Mr Coffey said the fire service’s “principal duty is to save lives, not to follow slavish guidelines and rules”.