Rally deaths prompt safety review for big events

Floral tributes on Swinton village green following the death of three spectators during the Jim Clark Rally. Picture: TSPL
Floral tributes on Swinton village green following the death of three spectators during the Jim Clark Rally. Picture: TSPL
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A MAJOR review of motor sport safety in Scotland will be carried out following the deaths of three spectators at the Jim Clark Memorial Rally.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said police, safety experts and the motor sport community would be involved in the exercise, launched to prevent a repetition of Saturday’s tragic events.

Training and deployment of stewards would be looked at following what Mr MacAskill yesterday described as a “black day” for the rally, for the Borders and for Scotland.

He also said that he had spoken with police chiefs about reviewing spectator safety at sporting and other occasions beyond the confines of motor sport.

The Scottish Government will ask Police Scotland to work with organisers and local authorities to undertake a “health check” over the next four weeks of planning for this summer’s events. Referring to the loss of rally victims Iain Provan, 64, his partner Elizabeth Allan, 63, and Len Stern, 71, Mr MacAskill expressed his condolences and sent the parliament’s “deepest sympathies” to their grieving families.

In a statement to Holyrood yesterday, the justice secretary said: “Spectator safety must always be paramount.

“In the light of the weekend’s deaths, the Scottish Government will commission a review of motor sport safety in Scotland, drawing on safety experts and the knowledge and expertise of the motor sport community.

“The review will also include Scottish Borders Council, Police Scotland, the Motor Sports’ Association, event organisers and other key stakeholders.

“It will include a review of the training and deployment of stewards as well as all other safety controls.”

Mr MacAskill added that Scottish ministers had the power to impose conditions on the rally. He said that transport minister Keith Brown would want to see the findings and recommendations before deciding what action to take.

“In light of Saturday’s events, the minister for transport will be giving careful consideration to the safety aspects of the 2015 rally and the need for conditions,” Mr MacAskill said.

“Clearly, this decision will be dependent on the information that comes forward from the safety reviews of the event.”

On his plans to review safety at other non-motor sport events, Mr MacAskill said: “We are moving into an unprecedented summer, the longer nights are with us, and with this in mind I think it is appropriate to review safety at public events and to do so very speedily.

“While the Jim Clark Rally is unique as a closed-road and unticketed motor rally, the Scottish Government will ask Police Scotland to work with event organisers and local authorities to undertake a health check of event planning for events taking place this summer.

“This will ensure that robust safety regimes and risk assessment procedures are in place and that licensing conditions are being met.”

The Lord Advocate Frank Mullholland has said it is too soon to rule out criminal prosecutions.

A full police investigation, under Crown Office direction, is now under way.

Mr Mulholland said any decision on whether a prosecution was necessary would not be taken until the completion of the investigation. The same applies to his decision on whether to hold a fatal accident inquiry.

Mr MacAskill said: “Sadly, Scotland has seen human tragedies at sporting events in the past. We have come through those traumatic events, learnt the hard lessons and acted on them so that, for example, our major sports stadia are now far safer for large crowds.

“That can be but small comfort for those who grieve today, but it is a process that is necessary and important.”

The three deaths happened when a rally car left the road on the Swinton section of the race held in the Duns and Kelso areas of the Borders.

Two hours earlier, another car left the road at a different stage, injuring six people who were taken to Borders General Hospital.

Mr MacAskill acknowledged that the rally was a “hugely popular” event and was a “fitting tribute” to the late Jim Clark, a hero of motor sport who lost his life racing at Hockenheim in 1968.

Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire John Lamont welcomed the review but warned against a “knee-jerk” response.

Mr Lamont said: “The deaths of these spectators had a huge impact on the Berwickshire community, and it is only right that we do everything in our power to prevent another accident like this occurring.

“However, I am keen to urge caution against any kneejerk reactions.

“The Jim Clark Rally is a long-established event in the Borders and whilst everyone is shocked by the events at the weekend, I think it would be regrettable if any premature decisions were taken about the event’s future.”

Mr Lamont added: “We cannot allow this historic rally to cease running altogether, and any suggested changes must be realistic and achievable.”

A spokeswoman for the Motor Sport Association said it would not make any comment “until Police Scotland has made its full investigation”.