Fatal accident inquiry to be held into Clutha helicopter crash

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The police helicopter crashed into The Clutha roof on 29 November 2013

A fatal accident inquiry is to begin next year into the deaths of 10 people killed when a police helicopter crashed into a Glasgow pub.

The first hearing is likely to begin in the autumn of 2018 following the crash at the Clutha pub on 29 November 2013.

In announcing the inquiry, the Crown Office also said there would be no criminal proceedings in the case.

A solicitor for many of those affected by the crash said the five-year delay to the inquiry was "not acceptable".

Investigators found that fuel transfer switches were turned off on the helicopter at the time of the crash.

The helicopter crew who were killed in the crash were pilot David Traill, PC Tony Collins and PC Kirsty Nelis.

'Unknown reasons'

Seven customers in the Clutha pub also died. They were John McGarrigle, Mark O'Prey, Gary Arthur, Colin Gibson, Robert Jenkins, Samuel McGhee and Joe Cusker.

A report published in 2015 by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the pilot did not follow emergency protocol and flew on despite low fuel warnings.

It said fuel transfer pumps were turned off and a controlled landing was not achieved for "unknown reasons".

Image caption,
(Top: left to right) David Traill; Pc Kirsty Nelis; Pc Tony Collins; Gary Arthur; Samuel McGhee (Bottom: left to right) Colin Gibson; Robert Jenkins; Mark O'Prey; John McGarrigle; Joe Cusker

The Crown Office said that following a wide-ranging investigation, which involved the consideration of a "significant volume of documentation" and detailed statements from witnesses, it had concluded there was no evidence to justify criminal proceedings.

It said it would send a formal notice to the courts by the middle of next year for a fatal accident inquiry to be held.

Families of those killed and injured in the disaster have criticised the delay in beginning the inquiry.

'Awful accident'

Andrew Henderson from Thompsons Solicitors, which represents dozens of victims of the Clutha tragedy, said that while he welcomed the news of the inquiry, its delay was evidence the FAI system in Scotland needed to an overhaul.

He added: "The whole purpose of FAIs is to make recommendations that will stop similar tragedies happening in the future and therefore the process moving forward in a timely fashion is crucial.

"The fact that the inquiry is likely to begin almost five years after this awful accident is not acceptable."

The Crown Office has acknowledged the frustration of bereaved families and previously said that the AAIB report had raised a "number of issues" that required further investigation by Police Scotland.

In a statement, the Crown Office said: "The investigation into the Clutha helicopter crash has reached a significant stage and crown counsel, the most senior lawyers in the Crown Office, have formally instructed a fatal accident inquiry be held.

"Following submission of a detailed report by the helicopter team, crown counsel have also concluded that there is insufficient evidence available to justify instructing criminal proceedings.

"In coming to this decision, crown counsel have considered the evidence available, and the recommendations of the inquiry team, and an assessment of what information may reasonably become available in the future has also been taken into account."

Undisclosed amounts

The Crown Office said that should that position change and new evidence come to light, it would consider future criminal proceedings.

They said the police investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash had "involved the collection and consideration of a significant volume of documentation, including highly technical manuals and guidance, as well as the taking of detailed statements from witnesses, including professionals in the aviation industry."

The statement added: "COPFS appreciate that the wait for a decision regarding proceedings must have been extremely difficult and stressful for those affected and we will keep them informed of significant developments."

Earlier this month, damages were awarded to people injured in the crash and family members of those killed.

A reported £1.3m was paid by the owners of the helicopter firm Babcock to 10 people injured, while cases brought by 16 others affected were settled for undisclosed amounts.

Clutha timeline:

29 November 2013: Police helicopter crashes on Clutha bar in Glasgow killing 10 people.

9 December 2013: AAIB preliminary report finds there was 95 litres of fuel onboard the aircraft.

14 February 2014: AAIB special report finds both engines "flamed out". One of the fuel tanks was empty, while a second contained 0.4 litres. A third contained 75 litres, but transfer pumps to take this fuel to the other two engine tanks were switched off.

23 October 2015: AAIB final report finds main cause of accident to be mismanagement of the fuel system by the pilot.

24 November 2017: Fatal accident inquiry announced.

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