One year on from M9 tragedy next step still to be decided

Junction 9 of the M9 outside Stirling, close to where the car of couple was found
Picture: Michael Gillen
Junction 9 of the M9 outside Stirling, close to where the car of couple was found Picture: Michael Gillen

Two families shared a heartbreak anniversary this week.

Exactly one year ago on Tuesday their lives were changed forever when a car crashed on the M9 near Bannockburn.

John Yuill (28) died at the scene, but his partner Lamara Bell (25) lay trapped in the wreckage for three days before being found.

She was rushed to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and placed in a medically induced coma as doctors battled to save her - but lost her fight for life on Sunday, July 12.

The tragic events that started to unfold on Sunday, July 5 last year and ended a week later robbed four young children of a mum and dad, parents of a son and daughter and sibblings of a brother and sister.

It also sparked a major probe into Police Scotland procedures and reports to the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC who has yet to decide if criminal charges are brought or a fatal accident inquiry is held.

The focus has been on why police at the Bilston Glen call centre in Midlothian failed to respond to a 101 call made by a passing motorist reporting the accident probably within hours of it happening.

For some reason it was not followed up and Police Scotland waited until July 7 before issuing a missing person appeal urging the public to report any sightings of the Falkirk couple who had last been seen in the Loch Earn area of Stirlingshire in the early hours of that fateful Sunday.

Area commander for Falkirk, Chief Inspector Mandy Paterson, said: “We are now extremely concerned about John and Lamara’s wellbeing and anxious to trace them as soon as possible.”

Ironically, the top cop asked anyone with any information to relay it to Police Scotland by calling 101.

The next day, Assistant Chief Constable Kate Thomson, confirmed: “Police Scotland were called to the M9 southbound near junction 9 at around 9.50am this morning following a report of a one car road traffic collision involving a Renault Clio which had left the road.

“The male driver of the car was sadly pronounced dead at the scene. The female passenger was conveyed to hospital in Glasgow where she is in a critical condition. Our thoughts are with both families at this difficult time.”

As questions started to be asked, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service referred the matter to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) and Justice Secretary Michael Matheson instructed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) to undertake an urgent review of all police call handling in Scotland.

Chief Constable, Sir Stephen House, apologised to the families of John and Lamara and “to the people of Scotland for this individual failure in our service” - then resigned in October 2015 nearly a year before his contract was up.

The HMICS review published in November made 30 recommendations for improvements to be tackled “as a priority” after identifying weaknesses in Police Scotland’s approach to implementing its new national call handling system which has seen a number of control rooms closed.

The PIRC’s second report to the Lord Advocate last month on the circumstances surrounding the tragedy examined why the call to police reporting a car off the road on July 5 was not followed up.

The Lord Advocate will now consider the findings before deciding what action to take, including whether to hold a fatal accident inquiry or start a criminal prosecution.

Family need answers to ease the pain

The parents of M9 crash victim Lamara Bell continue to demand an explanation of how what happened to their daughter could have occurred.

Until they get the answers they are desperately seeking, their grief will continue.

This week Lamara’s mum, Diane, repeated her plea for those at fault to step forward and finally take full responsibility.

She said: “Someone has to be found accountable. I believe 100 per cent she would still be here if the police had got to her sooner.”

Following the second PIRC report in June, the family said in a statement: “The last 11 months have been one of heartache for us all, especially for Lamara’s two children Alysha and Kieran.

“The pain of losing Lamara in such tragic circumstances will never go away, but with the completion of this supplementary report we are now another step closer to knowing what happened.”

On the first anniversary of the tragedy Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Kate Thomson said: “On behalf of all my colleagues I wish to extend my sympathies to the families and friends of Lamara Bell and John Yuill.

“The events of last July not only continue to affect them, but also a great number of people in the communities we serve and within the force itself. Please be assured we will continue to offer the appropriate advice and support to those who require it.

“A review into our call handling arrangements has been carried out and I wish to reassure everyone that extensive work has been undertaken to address the recommendations.”