Minister apologises after police admit failings over fatal M9 crash

A Scottish Government minister has apologised following the deaths of two people in the M9 crash of 2015, which police failed to respond to for three days.

Justice Secretary Keith Brown said he was “deeply sorry” to the families of those who had died.

Earlier this week, Police Scotland was fined £100,000 after admitting failings which “materially contributed” to the death of one of the victims.

John Yuill, 28, was pronounced dead at the scene on July 8, 2015, and his partner, Lamara Bell, 25, died four days later in hospital.

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Keith Brown addressd MSPs on Thursday (Andrew Cowan/PA)

Their car came off the motorway near Stirling and plunged down an embankment on July 5 that year.

Despite a call being made to report the crashed vehicle, officers did not arrive at the scene until three days later.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard on Tuesday that medical experts believed Lamara Bell could have survived with faster treatment.

In a statement in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, Mr Brown said the Lord Advocate had begun work to initiate a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the deaths.

He said: “I want to start by offering my condolences to the families of John Yuill and Lamara Bell.

“The Chief Constable unreservedly apologised to John and Lamara’s families yesterday.

“And as the then Justice Secretary did at the time I want to apologise to the families for this tragic loss.

“I am deeply sorry.”

M9 crash deaths
Police Scotland admitted failings during a crminal case against the force (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mr Brown referred to a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary which was made in the wake of the tragedy.

He said all 30 of the report’s recommendations had been acted on, while inspectors had continued to engage with the police command and control division.

The Justice Secretary reaffirmed his support for the reorganisation of Scotland’s regional police forces into Police Scotland.

He said: “Much has been achieved through police reform, and I firmly believe that policing in Scotland is stronger for it.

“That, however, in no way detracts from the failures that occurred in this part of the reform programme and which have been accepted by Police Scotland.”
Mr Brown referred to Lord Beckett’s sentencing statement during the criminal case against Police Scotland.

The judge said: “The offence for which the Police Service of Scotland has accepted responsibility and pled guilty to arises from human error which arose at a time of considerable restructuring of the police and necessary reorganisation of their procedures.”

Scottish Conservative MSP, Jamie Greene, said: “The deaths of the Lamara Bell and John Yuill are an utter tragedy, there really are no other words for it, but this is a tragedy which should not have happened.

“It resulted in unimaginable horror and, as we know now, the avoidable death of Lamara.

“It is also a tragedy which many warned might happen. This case laid bare some very difficult truths for the Scottish Government, which it must be held accountable and responsible for — over and above the apology that we’ve heard today.

“It is clear that the centralisation of Police Scotland, and specifically its call handling practices, undoubtedly led to a period of funding concerns, IT problems and operational failures which ultimately cost the lives of two innocent people.”

Scottish Labour’s Pauline McNeil said: “There were many troubling factors leading to the death of these two young people.

“Lessons must be learned from these huge mistakes in this case, and the fact that it took six years for the family to finally have a court confirm the failings of Police Scotland on an admission of corporate criminal liability.”

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Former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie (Colin Fisher/Alamy)

Scottish Liberal Democrat, Willie Rennie, said: “I know Lamara’s family and I am thinking of them today, and I have for many days over the last six years.

“For the Justice Secretary to use this week, of all weeks, to claim the centralisation of the police was a success story, I think is both insulting and offensive — especially as the Chief Constable admitted that, for three years, the call centre system was unsafe.”

Mr Brown replied: “I appreciate the points that Willie Rennie makes and also the fact that he has been involved in this case for a long time, and his personal knowledge of the family concerned, but I have to say I disagree.

“I have been a supporter by conviction of the centralisation of the police force, I believe that leads to a better police force in Scotland and it is already showing benefits.

“I acknowledge, in this case, the tragic loss of life that has happened here but I believe it was a fundamentally important public service reform.”