MSPs warn against ‘scapegoating’ in crash inquiry

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.
Officers comb the scene of the M9 crash. Picture: HemediaOfficers comb the scene of the M9 crash. Picture: Hemedia
Officers comb the scene of the M9 crash. Picture: Hemedia

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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Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said rank-and-file officers must be able to “participate fully” in a review of call-handling by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), without fear of repercussions.

Mr Rennie said: “The fact 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.”

The tragedy has already been put down to human error after it was revealed a senior officer had taken down details of the accident, but they were not then fed into the system.

But Scottish Police Federation chair Calum Steel yesterday 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 minister that officers must have confidence that they can speak freely.

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, but also raised concerns the justice secretary appeared to give the call-handling process “a clean bill of health before the inquiry has reported”.

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He said: “We may never know whether Lamara Bell or John Yuill would have survived. But we do know that both deserved better.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said; “Work is underway to ensure a tragic incident like this cannot happen again.

“While we were informed the initial Police Scotland internal review did not suggest any systemic failure, it is precisely to ensure this was the case that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has directed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland to carry out a full review of all call handling and processes within Police Scotland’s Contact, Command and Control centres.”