Glasgow lorry crash driver had blacked out before

The scene of the Glasgow bin lorry crash. Picture: Robery Perry
The scene of the Glasgow bin lorry crash. Picture: Robery Perry
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THE driver of a runaway bin lorry that killed six people in a busy city centre street had previously blacked out at the wheel of a bus, an inquiry has heard.

Harry Clarke lost control of the council truck in Glasgow city centre on 22 December after apparently losing consciousness.

We give drivers a visual check to make sure they’re OK

Alan Kernaghan, depot supervisor

The second day of evidence at a fatal accident inquiry into the Queen Street tragedy heard yesterday that Mr Clarke collapsed while driving a bus on the morning of 7 April 2010.

John Stewart, 49, an inspector with First Bus Glasgow, told Glasgow Sheriff Court he saw Mr Clarke driving the bus minutes after being told by a passenger of another bus about the incident.

Mr Stewart was referred to a daily report log that he wrote at the time, which he used to help his recollection of what happened that day.

He said a passenger got off another bus at 9:38am on Paisley Road West and told him the driver of the number 54 bus had taken unwell. The inspector said he then contacted the depot to ask if anything had been reported and learned that it had not.

Mr Stewart said he planned to make his way to the bus he had been told about further up the street when Mr Clarke arrived at 9:54am.

He told the inquiry he was surprised to see the bus pull up.

Reading from the report, Mr Stewart said Mr Clarke told him he had taken unwell at the stop and blacked out for a couple of minutes.

The inquiry heard he brought the depot up to speed and that Mr Clarke was still in the driver’s seat at that time.

He said he told Mr Clarke he could not drive. Mr Stewart told the inquiry that at 10am Mr Clarke started feeling unwell and an ambulance was called.

He read from his notes that Mr Clarke was checked out and given the all-clear by paramedics, and that he refused to travel to hospital. Mr Stewart said another driver was sent out to collect the bus from Paisley Road West and that he took it and Mr Clarke back to the depot in Parkhead.

He told the inquiry: “It’s the first time I’ve dealt with someone taking ill behind the wheel.”

Under cross-examination by Dorothy Bain QC, he agreed that responding to such situations was a very important part of his job.

Miss Bain confirmed with Mr Stewart that Mr Clarke blacked out and then decided to drive the bus.

She said: “He shouldn’t have done that.” Mr Stewart replied: “You will have to ask the driver.”

The court heard there was a facility on the bus for Mr Clarke to contact the depot and tell them what had happened and that it was unsafe for him to drive.

Mr Stewart agreed that Mr Clarke did not do so and that Mr Clarke did not know that Mr Stewart would be at the bus stop on Paisley Road West, where he stopped the bus after the incident.

Miss Bain asked Mr Stewart if he dialled 999 when he phoned for medical help and he said that he did.

She continued: “So concerned were you about how he was at that stage, you had to contact an ambulance?” He replied: “Yes.”

A letter from the First Bus doctor, Dr Lyons, sent to a Dr McGlone after the incident was shown to the inquiry.

It said Mr Clarke was a bus driver who had been off driving duties since the previous day following an episode of loss of or impaired consciousness while on a stationary bus.

It also detailed that after being looked at by paramedics he had been diagnosed with a vasovagal attack and requested a medical report from the doctor.

Miss Bain asked Mr Stewart if he knew Mr Clarke told a doctor he passed out in a canteen on 7 April 2010, the same day, and he said he did not.

Also giving evidence was Alan Kernaghan, an assistant supervisor at the bin lorry depot on the day of the incident.

He told the court he checked the drivers that morning to see they were fit to drive, but he said he was mainly looking for signs of drinking rather than ill- health.

Mr Kernaghan admitted he had received “no formal training” in how to check drivers, but he said each day before drivers were given their keys they would have a “chat”.

He said he had seen Mr Clarke on the day of the incident and said he was “just his normal, happy self”.

He said he seemed fit to go out and was given his keys.

Mr Kernaghan added: “We give them a visual check to make sure they look OK – make sure they’re steady on their feet and not got glazed eyes.

“If they look their normal selves that’s good enough for me.”

Also giving evidence was Ian Quigley, a fellow bin lorry driver who saw Mr Clarke on 22 December. He said Mr Clarke ate a pot noodle for lunch that day.

He added: “He said nothing about feeling unwell that lunchtime.”

Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton, died from multiple injuries after being hit by the truck three days before Christmas.

Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, were also killed.

The six-week inquiry into the tragedy began this week.

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