Inquiry “scapegoat” fears over M9 crash tragedy

Individual police officers must not be “scapegoated” by an inquiry into the fatal tragedy which saw two Scots left in their crashed car for days after the accident was reported.

Scene of the fatal incident on the M9. Picture: Michael Gillen

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have raised fears after Justice Secretary Michael Matheson ruled out a “systemic” problem with police call handling - before an inquiry into the tragedy has reported.

John Yuill and Lamara Bell were found inside the crashed car last Wednesday by the side of the M9 motorway near Stirling, three days after it had been reported. Ms Bell was still alive but died after three days in hospital. Mr Yuill was dead when the couple were found.

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Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie today said rank and file police officers must be able to ”participate fully” in the HMICS review of police call handling without fear of repercussions.

Mr Rennie said: “The fact that the HMICS review has been ordered by the Justice Secretary is welcome but by appearing to rule out systemic problems, Michael Matheson seems to have pre-judged the outcome. I am alarmed that the Justice Secretary and Chief Constable are already claiming it was an individual’s fault and that the wider system was blameless.

“There should be no scapegoating of any officer so we need the inquiry to be free to come to its own conclusions without any undue pressure from the government or Police Scotland bosses.”

He added: “The Justice Secretary needs to ensure that HMICS review can proceed at a pace and, crucially, that serving officers and civilian staff can play a full role and have their say without fears of adverse consequences for their careers.”

The Justice Secretary last night appeared to reject “systemic failures” in the call handling process. The tragedy has already been put down to human error after it was revealed that a senior officer had taken down the details of the accident, but it the details were not then fed into the system.

But Scottish Police Federation Chair Calum Steel criticised the Justice Secretary saying it was “remarkably dangerous” to pre-judge the outcome of an inquiry before it has taken place.

Mr Rennie, who has been contacted by serving officers and civilian staff regarding difficulties in Police control rooms, warned the Justice Secretary that officers must have confidence that they can speak freely without fear of adverse consequences.

Labour’s acting leader Iain Gray has written to the First Minister and said the tragedy was the latest in a “long line of failings” on the part of Police Scotland after rows over stop and search and armed policing.

Mr Gray welcomed the inquiry by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, but also raised concerns that the Justice Secretary appeared to give the call handling process “a clean bill of health , before the inquiry has reported.”

“Can you publish any assessment produced by the Scottish Government or Police Scotland which allowed Michael Matheson to reach such a conclusion?” his letter to Ms Sturgeon states.

“We may never know whether or not Lamara Bell or John Yuill would have survived if they had received attention from the police within minutes, or even hours, of the initial call being made. But we do know that both deserved better.

“Two people in Scotland have died after they were let down by Police Scotland. Who is going to take responsibility for these failures?”