THE head of Scotland’s police force yesterday apologised to the families of the couple who lay trapped in the wreckage of their car for three days after the crash was reported.
Lamara Bell, 25, was seriously injured and her boyfriend, John Yuill, 28, died in the crash on the M9 near Stirling, which was reported to the police on Sunday but not followed up for 72 hours.
Sir Stephen House, chief constable of Police Scotland, admitted the police had “failed both families” and said he “completely understands” the level of concern about officers’ handling of the incident, which he described as an “individual failure in our service”.
However, Sir Stephen did not explain why the call from a member of the public, reporting the crashed car, was not allocated to officers on the ground. Instead he said the force was “legally constrained” now that the incident is being investigated by the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC)
Ms Bell remains in a “very serious” condition at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She is in a medically induced coma, having suffered kidney damage from dehydration after lying in the wreckage for so long.
With pressure growing on Police Scotland to explain the circumstances behind the accident, Sir Stephen said everyone in the force felt the tragedy “most profoundly”.
That we failed both families involved is without doubtSir Stephen House
In a statement, he said: “I completely understand the level of concern being raised about the circumstances surrounding the handling of the incident of the crash and in particular, Police Scotland’s response to information received. That we failed both families involved is without doubt.”
Sir Stephen said an experienced Police Scotland officer answered a call just before 11:30am on Sunday from the member of the public who told them a car had gone down an embarkment near the slip road.
He added: “For reasons yet to be established, this call was not entered on to our police systems and not actioned out to operational teams in the Stirling area to respond and trace the vehicle.”
The couple were reported missing after visiting Loch Earn, Stirlingshire, in a blue Renault Clio on Sunday. The following day, police issued a missing persons’ appeal after Ms Bell and Mr Yuill had failed to contact friends and family, something that was described as “completely out of character”.
Police Scotland said the car was only found when officers were called to the scene on Wednesday following a call from another member of the public letting them know a Renault Clio was off the road.
Sir Stephen said: “Police Scotland are legally constrained from giving any detail into an incident if it is referred to the PIRC, as this incident rightly was.
“As the public would expect, the police must remain independent of this investigation which will be carried out by the PIRC under the direction of the Crown. All further detail will therefore be a matter for the Crown Office and the PIRC.”
The force has come under a torrent of criticism since details of the accident emerged on Wednesday. Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has questioned whether the PIRC investigation will be sufficient and called on justice secretary Michael Matheson to intervene.
Mr Matheson has said he has received assurances from Police Scotland that it would pass on all relevant information to PIRC.
Ms Bell’s mother Diane said yesterday her daughter would be in hospital “for a good few months” but that the family does not yet know what the long-term impact will be.
She said: “We don’t know what she is going to be like.”
Mr Yuill’s father, Gordon, said: “The family just want to be left in peace now to grieve. Our thoughts are also with Lamara’s family at this time.”
A spokesman for the PIRC said: “We have begun an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of a 28-year-old man and serious injury of a 25-year-old woman following the recovery of a car.
“The investigation will focus on why a telephone call made to Police Scotland on Sunday 5 July, which reported their car was off the road, was not followed up.
“The commissioner’s investigation will also examine the robustness of Police Scotland’s missing person inquiry and look at why that inquiry was not linked with the information received in the call.”