In the High Court in Edinburgh, Police Scotland have admitted their failings “materially contributed” to the death of a young mother who lay undiscovered in a crashed car with her partner for three days after the incident was reported to police.
The force on Tuesday pleaded guilty to health and safety failings, following the deaths of John Yuill, 28, and Lamara Bell, 25, who died after their car crashed off the M9 near Stirling in July 2015.
Police Scotland has been fined £100,000 after admitting failings which "materially contributed" to the death of the young mother.
The court that Ms Bell would probably have survived had she had been found sooner.
Diane Bell, mother of Lamara, welcomed the conviction and in an emotional statement released through Digby Brown Solicitors, she said: “The absence of answers and recognition has been the biggest strain because it is the not knowing that makes everything worse.
“It has taken a long time for this conviction to be secured but it is a huge relief that Police Scotland has finally admitted being at fault for Lamara’s death.
“I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us since 2015.
“Our family and friends… the local community… our legal team… and also the media whose spotlight helped make sure the failures that led to Lamara’s death could not be swept under the rug.
“That being said, we are a private family and now have a lot to consider and come to terms with - and as such, to assist with our healing process, we require time and space so we now respectfully request that our privacy is respected.
“But the important thing now that today we have the conviction.
“Finally, we can say – Lamara has justice.”
In court, the office of the Chief Constable of Police Scotland admitted that it failed to ensure that people including Mr Yuill and Ms Bell were not exposed to risks to their health and safety by failing to provide an “adequate and reliable call-handling system” between April 1, 2013 and March 1, 2016.
It also failed to ensure the system was “not vulnerable to unacceptable risks arising from human error” and to ensure that all relevant information reported by members of the public was recorded on a Police Scotland IT system so that it could be considered and a police response provided where appropriate.
The force admitted that as a result, members of the public were exposed to risks to their health and safety and, in particular on July 5, 2015, a police officer at the force call-handling centre at Bilston Glen Service Centre failed to record a phone call from a member of the public reporting that a vehicle was at the bottom of an embankment at the side of the eastbound junction nine slip road from the M80 on to the M9.
They then admitted Ms Bell and Mr Yuill remained “unaided and exposed to the elements” in the car between July 5 and 8, 2015 and that the failings “materially contributed” to her death on July 12 that year at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
The court heard that Ms Bell was conscious and said, "help me, get me out" to a member of the public who found her in the vehicle after noticing it on July 8.
The mother of two had suffered serious injuries including to her skull and brain, and developed acute meningitis.
Mr Yuill, a father of five, died at the scene either at or shortly after the time of the accident, which is estimated to have happened at 6.17am on July 5.
Experts agreed that his "very severe injuries" were not survivable regardless of the timing of medical intervention.
The force pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Delivering the sentence, Lord Beckett said: "This case arose from terrible events in which two relatively young people died, one of them after days of severe physical suffering when she must have been in an almost unimaginable state of anxiety.
"As days and hours went by she must have been in a state of disbelief that no help arose."
Lord Beckett said it was "unprecedented" for the police service of Scotland to have been accused and convicted in the High Court.
He said that in setting the fine he had to consider that as Police Scotland is a public body any fine would be paid from the public purse.
The judge said that "the normal level of fine would reduce the normal ability of the Police Service of Scotland to protect and serve the public", and he set the fine at £100,000.
Scottish Conservative shadow community safety minister Russell Findlay MSP, said: “Families who fought for justice have waited far too long for Police Scotland to admit criminal liability in relation to this tragedy.
“This admission is a shocking indictment of how the SNP scandalously failed to guarantee their new police force’s call handling system met basic standards. These failings spanned a three-year period and put the public at risk.
“Lamara Bell’s father has said Police Scotland have still not learned lessons from the death of his daughter. It is hard to disagree with his view given that thousands of 101 calls are still not being routinely answered.
“The SNP-Green Government must ensure every robust measure is in place so that any incident similar to what occurred on the M9 will never happen again.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie MSP, who says he has sought answers for the past six years, said: “Political decisions have consequences. This is one of the darkest.
“The Scottish Government were cavalier about their centralisation of the police, rushing it through despite all the warnings. Experienced staff were replaced with officers from the frontline who didn’t know how the call handling systems worked.
“Six years after John Yuill and Lamara Bell died, Police Scotland now accept that from the very date that forces merged, failures in the call handling system created an unacceptable and long-lasting risk to the public. That ended in tragedy.
“Accepting responsibility is the very least that Police Scotland can do, given all that the families have had to endure. The Scottish Government must now do likewise. Ministers must come to Parliament to give the families and the public the answers and apology they deserve, because this was a consequence of their political decisions.”