Tributes to victims of Jim Clark Rally crash

The car that was involved in the crash at the opening stage in Duns. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The car that was involved in the crash at the opening stage in Duns. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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The family of a man killed when a rally car ploughed into a group of spectators said he had died “watching the sport he loved”.

Len Stern, 71, was one of three people killed after the car came off the road at the Jim Clark Rally in the Scottish Borders on Saturday afternoon.

About 250 competitors had been taking part in the rally, one of the largest in the UK.

The family of Mr Stern, from Bearsden near Glasgow, said in a statement: “Len was a special uncle who was well-loved by the family.

“His death is really tragic but he died watching the sport that he loved. Our thoughts are with the driver and his family during this difficult time.”

The other victims, Iain Provan, 64, and his partner Elizabeth Allan, 63, had travelled to the event from Barrhead, near Glasgow.

Relatives of Mr Provan, who founded the Motorsport Scotland website, said: “The family would like to thank race officials, members of the public and the emergency services for their assistance following the tragic incident.

“We would also like to thank everyone for their kind thoughts and ask that our privacy be respected at this very difficult time.”

The accident happened at about 4pm at Little Swinton, near Coldstream, two hours after another rally car left the road and hit five people – four men and a woman.

Two of the injured men, both aged 61, remain in hospital - one in a stable condition and one in a critical but stable condition.

An investigation into the circumstances of the crash is continuing today, with Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and top prosecutor, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, to receive a briefing from police later.

The crashed car was removed from the scene by officers last night as forensic specialists examined the scene.

Flowers have been left near the crash site with one bouquet carrying a card reading: “The sport that we all love is very cruel at times.”

Famous names from the world of motor sport meanwhile expressed sadness at the deaths.

Former Formula One world champion Jenson Button posted on Twitter: “Terribly sad news from the Jim Clark rally, my thoughts are with those involved and the families that have lost loved ones.”

An eyewitness to the fatal crash described the incident as like “a bowling ball hitting skittles”.

Colin Gracey, who has watched the rally for years from the same spot close to where the crash happened, said the experience was “traumatic”.

“I think it was the seventh car coming through and it just veered very sharply after taking the bridge and it went right into the field, hitting the people who were stood there. It was shocking,” he said.

“I was there with my family, my three children, and we go to the same place every year and always watch it from there. It was very traumatic.

“It was like a bowling ball hitting skittles. It was awful, absolutely awful.”

Mr Gracey said a safety car passed through the area before the rally to tell people to stand at a safe distance. But he said some people may have returned.

“There were at least a dozen people standing there and when it happened I thought ‘my god’,” he said.

“It was horrendous, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

In a statement following the crash, rally organisers said their thoughts were with those affected.

‘’All members of the organising team are in shock and are co-operating fully with Police Scotland to establish the facts,” the statement read.

The rally is named after Scottish Formula One driver Jim Clark, who grew up in the area and was killed in a motor racing accident in Hockenheim, Germany, in 1968.

Police have appealed for witnesses to the fatal crash, and the earlier one near Eccles, to contact them.

Officers are particularly interested to speak to anyone who has video footage or photographs of the rally and may have captured the collisions.

Detective superintendent Kenneth Graham said: “We would ask that anyone who has any video footage or photographs, or has any other information that may help with our investigation, to contact police immediately on 101.”

Chief superintendent Gill Imery of Police Scotland, the area commander for the Lothians and Borders, said the police investigation was at an early stage and involved painstaking work.

She said: “The investigation is at an information-gathering phase. Clearly we are looking to gather all of the information so that decisions can be made on the progress and the direction of that investigation.”

She spoke outside Kelso police office in the Borders after Mr MacAskill and Mr Mulholland were briefed on the latest stage of the ongoing police work.

Asked about speculation surrounding stewarding at the event, Ms Imery said: “I’d just like to reassure [people] very much that it is part of a very thorough investigation by Police Scotland, and that we’re confident that we will get all of the information.

“If people have got footage of the incident, or indeed information about that, there is a plea today for people to come forward and contribute that information and be assured it would be taken account of in the decision-making as to the direction the investigation takes going forward.”

Asked whether negligence was one aspect being looked at by police, she replied: “We’re looking at every possibility in terms of an outcome.”

On the question of whether the people involved in the crash had been standing in an area where spectators should not have been, she said: “That’s not something I’m able to confirm at this time, that will form part of the investigation.”

Asked how quickly it would be known if criminal charges are to be brought, or a fatal accident inquiry to be held, she said: “It is a painstaking investigation and we will be taking account of the information from everyone who has been there and all the various parties involved. It will take its course and be reported to the procurator fiscal for that decision to be made.”

Following the briefing, Mr MacAskill said he would be updating the Scottish Parliament tomorrow on his discussions with the police and local council.

He added: “Obviously there is a police investigation ongoing and it is for the Crown to decide what further action may be taken, including the potential of a fatal accident inquiry.”

He went on: “It’s a tragedy, three lives have been lost. I think it’s important that as the Justice Secretary I should be able and prepared to give a statement to parliament. “

Mr MacAskill suggested it was important for lessons to be learnt about spectator safety, in the wake of the accident.

He said: “Three deaths are a tragedy in any occasion but this was an occasion that was meant to be joyful. It’s been ongoing in this community for 44 years, so I think we want to make sure that we learn lessons and that will be another factor that will go in parallel.

“How do we address what occurred and learn lessons from that? But how do we ensure in Scotland, where we pride ourselves in not just events relating to motorsport but other events as we come forward to the Commonwealth Games, how can we ensure that people who go to those events have the greatest possible assurance that they will be safe?”

Asked whether there was to be a review of spectator safety, he said: “I’ll be making a statement to parliament. I don’t want to pre-empt that, I think that would be disrespectful... But we will be making comment not simply on the event and the investigation but also on what we think may need to be done about spectator safety.”

On the question of whether the Jim Clark Rally should be cancelled next year, he said: “I think we have to make sure that a proper investigation is carried out.

“We’ve got to bear in mind that although there have been three deaths and families are deeply affected ... this has run safely for 44 years. There will be lessons, there may have to be action, but it would be premature to make any decision.”