Glasgow & West Scotland

Glasgow bin lorry crash: Driver 'not selfish coward'

Harry Clarke arrives at court Image copyright PA
Image caption The inquiry has heard that Harry Clarke was unconscious at the wheel of the bin lorry when it crashed

The Glasgow bin lorry inquiry into the deaths of six people has heard that the driver is not "selfish" or a "coward".

The inquiry has heard Harry Clarke, 58 was unconscious when the lorry veered out of control on 22 December 2014.

Mr Clarke's QC, Paul Reid, said it was "lamentable" he had been attacked for not answering some questions while he could face private prosecution.

Sheriff John Beckett has now adjourned the inquiry and said he hopes to report his findings before January next year.

The family of crash victim Jacqueline Morton said the inquiry had highlighted "weaknesses in the system" and that a similar tragedy should not be allowed to happen again.

The fatal accident inquiry (FAI) at Glasgow Sheriff Court adjourned after hearing closing submissions from lawyers representing interested parties.

'Insufficient evidence'

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Media captionThroughout the fatal accident inquiry, a central theme has been the decision by prosecutors not to bring any charges against the bin lorry driver, Harry Clarke.

The inquiry was convened after the Crown Office said it would not prosecute anyone over the crash - a highly controversial decision that was defended by Scotland's top law officer, the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, on Friday after the FAI was adjourned.

He said there was "insufficient evidence in law" to bring proceedings.

The decision was also explained in a statement released by the Crown Office on Friday.

The statement, however, was heavily criticised by the bereaved McQuade and Sweeney families, who may pursue a private prosecution against Mr Clarke.

'Let down'

In a statement released through their solicitor, the families said: "We again reiterate our view that the Crown is wrong not to prosecute.

"In re-igniting this issue and releasing this statement once we had left court, rather than meet with us, we again feel wholly let down by the Crown.

"Failing to discuss its reasoning with us, and instead releasing a statement to our solicitor, clearly demonstrates the remarkable lack of thought, compassion and understanding by the Crown we have encountered since out first meeting with its representatives."

Ronald Conway, the lawyer representing Stephenie Tait's family, said: "It is difficult to make matters worse for her family but today's Crown Office statement regarding their investigation into the crash has done just that."

The families' anger stems from evidence at the inquiry that Mr Clarke suffered a previous blackout at the wheel of a bus in 2010.

He did not fully disclose this incident to his own doctors, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) or on application forms or medical declarations for council jobs.

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

Due to the threat of prosecution, Mr Clarke chose not to answer all questions relating to the 2010 incident and his medical history when he gave evidence to the inquiry.

When Mr Clarke's QC, Mr Reid, made his closing submission at the FAI on Friday, he said: "Harry Clarke does not doubt for a moment the unimaginable grief, loss and sadness that the families of the victims must have suffered.

"He recognises that there is nothing I can say on his behalf that will offer comfort to the families.

"He did not set out that day to inflict such unimaginable loss. He is not a lying or deceitful man. He is a very ordinary man who has the failings of ordinary men."

'Extraordinary circumstances'

Mr Reid added: "He will carry this with him for the rest of his days."

The QC said it was his client's intention to answer any questions put to him at the inquiry until the "theoretical" prospect of a private prosecution "became a reality".

Mr Reid said: "He has been described as selfish and a coward. That is unfair and denigrates the privilege he was invoking. It is lamentable that he was attacked so readily and frequently."

Sheriff John Beckett brought the inquiry to a close, advising he would issue a written determination after giving the "extraordinary circumstances" of the incident "careful assessment".

Image copyright Various
Image caption The inquiry has heard allegations Mr Clarke lied about his medical history to doctors, the DVLA and his employer

Sheriff Beckett said this would not be achieved in less than two months, but he would endeavour to be able to do so by January at the latest.

Erin McQuade and Jack and Lorraine Sweeney, from Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, were killed as the lorry driven by Mr Clarke veered out of control during a routine rubbish collection in Glasgow city centre.

A statement was read outside the court on behalf of the Morton family, who said the inquiry had been "a difficult, stressful and at times upsetting experience for us as a family".

Safety plea

They said: "The inquiry has highlighted weaknesses in the system that makes it too easy for an individual to obtain and retain a driving licence when they are not fit to drive contrary to public safety. The actions of an individual cannot be allowed to lead to a tragedy on such a scale again.

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Media captionFamily representative Neil Cardwell: "It is too easy for an individual to obtain and retain a driving licence when they are not fit to drive"

"Nothing can undo what occurred last December, nor change the loss that we as a family have suffered, but it cannot be the case that another family is standing here next year, or the year after that, because something of this nature has happened again.

"We have heard all the evidence. It is time for Sheriff Beckett to consider it and come back with a determination."

The statement added: "Above all, we remember and miss Jacqueline. A beloved partner of John, a much-loved mum of Adam and Scott, a daughter, sister, devoted grannie and a friend to all who knew her. She is sadly missed and will always be remembered."

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