Glasgow & West Scotland

Crewman recalls 'panic' of Glasgow bin lorry crash

Bin lorry crash, Glasgow Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Six people were killed and 10 others injured when the council bin lorry crashed in the centre of Glasgow

A crew member of the bin lorry that killed six people in Glasgow has spoken of his frantic efforts to awaken its unconscious driver.

Matthew Telford told a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) at Glasgow Sheriff Court of "panic" as Harry Clarke slumped unconscious at the wheel.

He said he hit Mr Clarke on the back and screamed "you're killing people Harry" as the tragedy unfolded.

The inquiry will focus on the vehicle, its route and the health of Mr Clarke.

Mr Telford was the first witness called before the inquiry, which got under way before Sheriff John Beckett QC on Wednesday.

He said he had been a council refuse collector for 18 years and served on bin lorries in the city centre for seven years.

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 witness said he and fellow crewman Henry Toal spent most of their time at the back of the vehicle and had no knowledge of the driving area of the vehicle, or its controls.

They had no training on what to do if someone fell ill in the truck, he said.

Mr Telford and Mr Toal would load bins on to the back of the truck and Mr Clarke, whom he described as laid back, would sometimes help.

Mr Telford said that, to his knowledge, Mr Clarke had had an operation on his hands but had no other health problems, such as dizziness or fainting, in the previous three years.

'Body slumped'

He could not recall anything out of the ordinary on the day of crash and said the crew were all wearing seatbelts.

The witness said the crew had been talking about Christmas and football when he felt the vehicle veer to the left.

Mr Telford said he turned to Mr Clarke and said: "What are you doing Harry?"

He described seeing Mr Clarke's head slumped to one side, then told how "his whole body slumped to the left", adding: "It didn't seem right to me."

The crewman said the driver's hands were not on the wheel and his seatbelt was holding him up.

Image copyright Stephen Gibson
Image caption The bin lorry crashed outside Queen Street Station in George Square

Mr Telford said "a bit of panic set in" and he started screaming at Mr Clarke and hitting him on the back to try to get a response.

He recalled the bin lorry hitting the pavement, then a bin, then pedestrians, before he shouted: "You're killing people Harry."

The lorry continued and hit walls, pedestrians and vehicles before crashing into a hotel.

"I was hoping we'd hit something and stop," Mr Telford said.

Driver 'groaning'

When the lorry stopped, the witness said he and Mr Toal got out and saw Mr Clarke was unconscious and "groaning".

He said he spoke to Mr Clarke as he was being treated after the crash and the driver asked him what had happened.

The court was shown pictures from the lorry with unopened bottles of beer in the cab.

Mr Telford said he did not know anything about them as there was no drinking in the vehicle and he did not drink at all.

He said that taking alcohol on to the lorry would be against council policy and he did not know how it got there.

The court will hear from the other bin lorry crewman, Mr Toal on Thursday.

Earlier, the FAI was told that there was no mechanical fault with the lorry before the crash.

It was also shown CCTV footage of the crash, during which some family members chose not to be present.

Sheriff Beckett QC began proceedings by telling family members of those who died: "I can only imagine the shock, pain and anguish which you have suffered following your sudden and terrible loss."

Following a minute's silence to remember the victims, a joint minute of agreed facts was read to the court.

It detailed the road layout around George Square and noted that Christmas decorations and an ice rink were in place on the day of the tragedy.

The road surface was described as being in a "good state of repair" and said to have had no effect on the incident. The weather and visibility were also both fine.

The minute listed the crew members on board the lorry and detailed the path it took as it hit buildings, cars and pedestrians.

'Not deliberate'

It said "numerous" members of the public saw Mr Clarke apparently unconscious behind the wheel, and there was "nothing to suggest the incident was a deliberate act".

In terms of the technical specification of the lorry, the FAI was told that it had been fully inspected before delivery and had various safety features fitted as required by the council.

The lorry had foot and hand brakes and an engine brake designed to slow it on hills, although the FAI was told the latter would have had "minimal effect at road speed".

The minute described "major impact damage" to the lorry following the crash and said that there were "no pre-collision defects".

Its mechanical condition prior to the crash was not a factor.

The court was also played DVD clips of the lorry following the crash, which showed exterior and interior damage, including broken glass on the dashboard with the keys still in the ignition.

Solicitor General Lesley Thomson QC, Scotland's second most senior law officer, is leading the FAI and has previously said the inquiry would examine three main areas.

One is the medical background, employment record and training of the driver, Mr Clarke, who has since said he has no memory of the crash itself.

The second is the technical aspects of the vehicle and whether any measures could have brought it to a controlled stop, and the third is the safety of the route taken by the vehicle given the time of day and year.

'Tragic accident'

Erin McQuade, 18, her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and his 69-year-old wife Lorraine, all from Dumbarton, died in the incident in the city's Queen Street and George Square.

Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, were also killed when the truck mounted the pavement before crashing into the side of the Millennium Hotel.

A further 10 people were injured.

The Crown Office has already concluded that there will be no criminal prosecution over the crash, with senior lawyers deeming it a "tragic accident".

The FAI was originally to take place before Sheriff Principal Craig Scott, but he withdrew earlier this year after realising he knew one of the victims.

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