Rennie writes to Justice Secretary following FAI report on M9 crash

2 Jun 2024
Willie Rennie MSP

Following the report into the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill on the M9 in 2015, Scottish Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie MSP has today written to the Justice Secretary to ask whether the Scottish Government will accept responsibility for its part in the tragedy, and whether it will finally commit to proper reform of the Fatal Accident Inquiry system.

In July 2015, John Yuill and his partner, Lamara Bell, died after their car crashed off the M9 near Stirling in 2015. They lay undiscovered in the car for three days, despite a member of the public reporting the crash to Police Scotland.

In the months leading up to the tragedy, Willie Rennie repeatedly raised concerns about the police call-handling system directly with the First Minister. He highlighted that by rushing through their centralisation of Scottish policing, the government had allowed staff to be replaced with officers from the front line who did not know how the call-handling system worked.

Earlier this week, a Fatal Accident Inquiry report, published almost nine years after the crash, found that had it not been for Police Scotland’s “organisational failure” in the call-handling system, Lamara Bell would probably have survived.

Due to the lengthy delays in publishing the report, there were no recommendations for future actions as Police Scotland had already changed its procedure over the past 9 years.

Mr Rennie’s letter to the Justice Secretary is as follows:

Dear Angela,

I am writing to you following the completion of the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill.

It has been almost nine years since these tragic and - in Ms Bell’s case - avoidable deaths. The sheriff has confirmed that Ms Bell’s ‘incomprehensible suffering’ and subsequent death were caused by the failures of Police Scotland’s call handling system.

This system was implemented following the Scottish Government’s centralisation of police forces in 2013, and was used until 2016. During this period, serious concerns were raised about call management within Police Scotland. Whistleblowers took personal risks to make politicians aware that the call centre system was unsafe. The Scottish Government had the opportunity to listen to these reports from front-line police officers and staff, and take action that could have prevented this tragedy.

But the Scottish Government refused to listen. In March and April of 2015, months before the deaths of Ms Bell and Mr Yuill, I highlighted issues with Police Scotland call handling to then–First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions. No serious scrutiny was conducted following this. Ms Sturgeon blamed the issues in one case I raised on a mere ‘technical fault’, and promised me that ‘when concerns are raised, they are responded to and actioned.’ As the determination clearly demonstrates, that was not true.

Police Scotland have accepted their criminal responsibility for the death of Ms Bell, and have admitted that the concerns raised about call handling were not dealt with. But the Scottish Government also bears political responsibility. The Government’s rushed police centralisation contributed to the failures to establish a reliable call-handling system, and its subsequent refusal to take whistleblower testimony more seriously lessened political pressure to address these failures. Ministers could have taken more action that might have prevented this tragedy. They chose not to.

Between the deaths of Ms Bell and Mr Yuill and the issuing of this determination, nearly nine years have passed. In that time, we have had three Lords Advocate and three First Ministers. The broken FAI system has added to the families’ torment: this agonising wait to find out precisely what happened is unforgivable. And, because of the length of time between then and now and the changes that have occurred, the sheriff was unable to make any recommendations on the basis of the FAI. The decade-long exercise has not resulted in any lessons learned.

In light of the above, will the Scottish Government accept that it too bears responsibility for the failures that led to Ms Bell’s death? And will it now commit to implement thoroughgoing reform of the FAI system, implementing long overdue changes that will ensure lessons are learned quickly and families given closure?

I hope to hear from you soon.

Kind regards,

Willie Rennie

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