Glasgow & West Scotland

Flying Phantom skipper's widow criticises FAI system

Stephen Humphreys
Mr Humphreys was married with a daughter and two stepsons

A woman whose husband died when a tugboat capsized five years ago has backed reforms to the "deficient" fatal accident inquiry (FAI) system.

Stephen Humphreys was the skipper of the Flying Phantom, which sank in thick fog on the Clyde on 19 December 2007.

The 33-year-old from Greenock died, along with Robert Cameron, 65, from Houston in Renfrewshire, and Eric Blackley, 57, from Gourock, Inverclyde.

The widows have called for an FAI to be held but it has not yet taken place.

The Flying Phantom was trying to guide a cargo vessel to a dock when it sank.

A Marine Accident Investigation Branch inquiry found that the boat's towing winch had not released quickly enough, which meant it was capsized by the vessel it was pulling.

A third crewman - Brian Aitchison, 37, from Coldingham - was rescued from the water and survived.

Relatives of the victims have called out for an FAI ever since, but have grown angry with delays.

On the fifth anniversary of the three crewmen's deaths, Helen Humphreys said: "My own experience of the current system of investigation of workplace fatalities, since the death of Stephen, has allowed me to see first-hand the deficiencies in the process.

"In particular, I have experienced frustration at the length of time taken with no resolution in sight and I have been left feeling a lot of anger at the lack of respect for Stephen's life and the feelings of his family."

She spoke out as Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson announced plans to introduce a Member's Bill to Holyrood to try to reform the FAI system.

The Flying Phantom
The tug sank opposite Clydebank College in West Dunbartonshire

Ms Ferguson is seeking to change the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiries (Scotland) Act of 1976.

She said her experience of working with the families of those killed in the Stockline explosion in Glasgow had left her "all too aware how anachronistic the current FAI system is".

A review of the system, carried out by Lord Cullen in 2009, seems to have been a "wasted opportunity" she said, with its proposals "yet to even be implemented, going little way towards making the system fully fit for purpose".

She said: "For these reasons I am bringing forward a Bill which I hope will garner widespread support from a majority within the Scottish Parliament."

A public consultation for the Bill is to take place next year.

An inquiry by the Marine Accident Investigation Board criticised the boat's owner, the Danish firm Svitzer, over the deaths, as well as the port operator Clydeport.

'Pot luck'

The union which represented the Flying Phantom crew has welcomed Ms Ferguson's plans.

Unite's Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, said: "Time and time again we have been shocked by disasters such as the Flying Phantom and then angered by a system which has no defined structure to prevent a repeat of such an incident.

"The process relies on pot luck as to whether or not more lives will be lost in similar circumstances in the future and we wholeheartedly welcome Patricia Ferguson's Bill and the will to bring about positive change."

Thompsons Solicitors acted for the families of the dead after the disaster.

Partner Patrick McGuire said: "Scotland desperately needs a FAI system which has teeth and will actually make a difference to the families who have lost loved ones as well as providing a mechanism to ensure lessons are learned.

"The current system is woefully inadequate as can be testified by the many people who have experienced its failings first-hand and been dreadfully let down by the process."

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