Death inquiry judge slams 'inflexible' council

Ruling after schoolgirl killed in road accident

FALKIRK Council has been slammed by a Sheriff after a probe into the death of a schoolgirl.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick (15) was killed after getting off a school bus at 4 p.m., on January 29, 2001. The St Mungo's High pupil was struck by a speeding truck as she tried to cross busy Falkirk Road in Bonnybridge.

On Monday, Sheriff Andrew Murphy ruled the accident was caused by Kathleen crossing the road quickly in front of the bus, failing to pay sufficient attention to approaching traffic and going into the path of a truck which was overtaking the bus at an excessive speed.

Sheriff Murphy added: ''A complete lack of road traffic calming measures/ crossings was a background feature of this accident. If they had been available, Kathleen and other school pupils may have adopted the habit of making use of them.''

Falkirk Council was first warned of road risks in 1998. A petition with 240 names was handed over by Councillor Billy Buchanan who, just days before Kathleen's death, described the road as ''an accident waiting to happen''.

After the incident, a gateway was constructed which tests later proved succeeded in slowing traffic.

Sheriff Murphy said it was up to the council whether more traffic calming measures were needed, noting that an independent consultant would report back to the council in February or March next year more than two years after the accident.

The sheriff said: ''The seemingly inflexible, uncompromising and almost dismissive attitude taken by the roads and design services and developmental departments has not helped the process along.''

Malcolm Allan & Sons delivery driver Colin McCredie, was doing 42 mph when his truck slammed into Kathleen. Road accident investigator Jack Marshall told the court that Kathleen and the truck would not have come into collision if McCredie had been travelling at the legal speed limit of 30 mph.

McCredie (24), now a bus driver, will never be charged. The case is time barred.

Kathleen's father Joe Fitzpatrick (49) hit out at fiscal William Gallacher's handling of the case.

He told Falkirk Sheriff Court last Friday: ''The driver has been aggressive towards me, he's arrogant and he has never apologised. I am very unhappy that he has not been charged for this. Mr Gallacher said the reason was that he had suffered enough. I think it should be up to a jury whether he has suffered enough.''

Mr Fitzpatrick and his estranged wife, Mary Callanan, of Gateside Avenue, were refused an inquiry into their daughter's death. The authorities only relented after an 18-month fight involving local politicians Michael Matheson, Eric Joyce, Dennis Canavan, Billy Buchanan and road traffic victim organisation SKID.

Sheriff Murphy said: ''I am sure Kathleen would have been proud of both her parents and their efforts to pursue these matters and have them aired in public.''

Solicitor Sharon McGurk, speaking on behalf of Mrs Callanan, said outside the court: ''This has been a traumatic time for the family but Mrs Callanan feels this has given her daughter some dignity. She is grateful to Sheriff Murphy for that.''

She added the family are planning a civil action against the driver and Falkirk Council.

Kathleen's father added: ''Colin McCredie and Falkirk Council have the blood of my daughter on their hands. McCredie should have been charged for causing my daughter's death by speeding. And if Falkirk Council had listened to the people of Bonnybridge about that road then my daughter would still be here today.''

Falkirk Council's director of development services Rhona Geisler said: "We have yet to study the report in detail. We will do so as soon as possible and take any necessary action.''

Procurator Fiscal William Gallacher said that he did not wish to comment further.