Glasgow & West Scotland

Glasgow bin lorry family begins private prosecution

The scene of the crash Image copyright PA

A family which lost three members in the Glasgow bin lorry crash has taken the first step towards bringing a private prosecution against the driver.

Their lawyers have delivered a Bill of Criminal letters to the Lord Advocate, seeking his agreement for the move.

Even without his approval, permission can be sought from High Court judges.

The Sweeney/McQuade family want Harry Clarke prosecuted as an inquiry found the crash could have been avoided if he had not lied about his medical history.

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

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.

Those who died in the crash were Erin McQuade, 18, her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and his 69-year-old wife Lorraine, from Dumbarton, Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh.

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 later said that no one would face charges over the crash - a move which was criticised by some of the bereaved families.

It later emerged at the fatal accident inquiry that Mr Clarke had lied about his history of blackouts on job applications and medical declarations.

Relatives of Ms McQuade and Mr and Mrs Sweeney later said they intended to pursue a private prosecution against Mr Clarke, which they have now initiated.

The prosecution

Reevel Alderson, BBC Scotland home affairs correspondent

Before a private prosecution can proceed, the Lord Advocate, Scotland's senior prosecutor must "grant concurrence", signifying he is happy for it to go ahead.

If he does not, it remains up to the High Court to decide whether the application can proceed.

But judges there will look at whether there is a "sufficiency of evidence" to bring about a private case - in other words, whether the case has a good chance of succeeding.

They must also establish if there are exceptional circumstances to allow a private prosecution, bearing in mind the Crown has decided not to bring charges against Harry Clarke, the bin lorry driver.

In a lengthy interview with BBC Scotland in August, 2015, the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC set out in detail why Mr. Clarke wasn't to be prosecuted.

He said there was insufficient evidence in law to bring charges, and said then he believed a private prosecution would not succeed.

The key point was that Mr Clarke was unconscious at the time of the accident, so he was not controlling the vehicle, and therefore did not have the criminal intent required to bring charges.

Also, since he had not had a blackout for four years, he could not have predicted he would have one on the fatal day.

A statement from the Sweeney and McQuade family lawyer said: "Paul Kavanagh, Gildeas solicitors, intimates on behalf of the relatives of Jack and Lorraine Sweeney and Erin McQuade that a Bill for Criminal Letters was delivered to the Lord Advocate.

"We have sought the concurrence of the Lord Advocate and look forward to receiving a response within seven days.

"This is the initial process that the family hope ultimately will lead to the prosecution of Henry (Harry) Clarke in the criminal courts."

Mr Kavanagh later told the BBC that the family "want justice" and was "not a lynch mob".

"The family do not consider that they have to attend outside a cell and hang him," he said.

"What they want to see is justice being done and the natural course of justice will be a criminal prosecution.

"If the driver is acquitted, the driver is acquitted, it's as simple as that and then the family can move on. At least in six years time they can say that they've done their best for the parents they lost and the daughter they lost."

'Due consideration'

A spokesman for the Crown Office confirmed the Bill for Criminal Letters had been received and would be given "due consideration".

He added: "The Crown position on this will be made clear to the families and the court when appropriate."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Scottish ministers have received further information in support of an application for public funding towards a private prosecution from lawyers acting on behalf of the families of the Glasgow Bin Lorry tragedy, and will now consider this closely."

Last month, the Lord Advocate Frank Mr Mulholland, Scotland's most senior law officer, insisted it would have been "wrong" to prosecute Mr Clarke.

He said he knew the decision not to charge the 58-year-old was "not a popular one", adding he was aware of the feelings of the victims' families on the matter.

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