BBC Trust rules against bin lorry programme

The scene of the crash Image copyright PA
Image caption The Glasgow bin lorry crash killed six people and injured 17 others

A BBC Scotland investigation into the Glasgow bin lorry crash has had three complaints against it upheld.

The BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body, upheld complaints about the programme Lies, Laws and the Bin Lorry Tragedy, broadcast in 2015.

The half-hour film looked at the decision not to prosecute driver Harry Clarke over the December 2014 crash.

The complaints were brought by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

A spokeswoman said: "We raised a complaint about the BBC's failure to accurately report our position and we note that the BBC Trust has now accepted that was the case."

BBC Scotland said it disagreed with the BBC Trust's decision. It said it "took great care to make sure the programme was fair to the Crown Office".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Harry Clarke was unconscious at the wheel when the bin lorry went out of control

Mr Clarke, 58, was unconscious when the Glasgow City Council bin lorry veered out of control on 22 December 2014, killing six people and injuring 17 others.

It later emerged that Mr Clarke had a history of blackouts that he failed to disclose to his employer.

The Crown decided not to prosecute Mr Clarke after saying there was no evidence that he knew, or ought to have known, that he was unfit to drive.

In the BBC programme, broadcast in November 2015, two families questioned whether the Crown Office was aware of all the evidence when they made the decision not to prosecute.

Image caption (Clockwise from top left) Jack Sweeney, Lorraine Sweeney, Erin McQuade, Jacqueline Morton, Stephenie Tait and Gillian Ewing were killed in the crash

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service complained to the BBC Trust on five points.

Three were about the BBC Scotland programme and two were about a discussion on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio Two.

While upholding all three complaints against BBC Scotland, the Trust said "the documentary was a thoughtful piece of programme-making made in the public interest".

The complaints were:

  1. The documentary made allegations that the Head of the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit, David Green, had made offensive remarks about Harry Clarke in the presence of relatives of the crash victims. Relatives claimed he had said: "The thing you don't know about [the driver] is he's a fat, uneducated man from the West of Scotland and doesn't know any better." The BBC Trust ruled the programme did not make clear Mr Green's claim that a colleague, who was also present, could corroborate his denial of making the remarks.
  2. The documentary failed to state that David Green could not be interviewed because he was "unable to respond as an individual to the allegations being made against him in the course of his duties". This was deemed to be unfair.
  3. The documentary had failed adequately to explain the [then] lord advocate's decision not to be interviewed on the programme. Scotland's senior law officer was of the opinion it was inappropriate for him to provide an interview until after the Sheriff had issued his determination on the case. The BBC Trust said this was unfair to the lord advocate.

There were two complaints about the Jeremy Vine show:

  1. It incorrectly stated on multiple occasions that the Crown Office's decision not to prosecute the driver was made in order to enable him to give evidence at the fatal accident inquiry without fear of self-incrimination. The BBC has already offered to send an apology on this complaint.
  2. The Crown Office had stated that the presenter of the radio programme had expressed an unjustified personal opinion on three occasions. However, the presenter was held to be playing "devil's advocate" - a legitimate journalistic technique - and the appeal was not upheld.

A BBC Scotland spokesman said: "While we appreciate the consideration given throughout this process, we disagree with the BBC Trust's decision to uphold these elements of the complaint.

"BBC Scotland made considerable efforts to ensure that the programme's journalism was robust, fair and accurate and accorded in full with the BBC's Editorial Guidelines.

"The testimony provided to us by the victims' families was compelling. We remain convinced of its veracity and we took great care to make sure the programme was fair to the Crown Office."

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