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.
Despite a call being made to police, it took them three days to respond.
When officers finally arrived at the scene, Mr Yuill was found to be dead and Ms Bell died four days later in hospital.
At the High Court in Edinburgh on Tuesday, 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.
Failed to record a phone call
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.
The indictment says the phone call was not recorded on any Police Scotland IT system and the failure went unnoticed with “no proper consideration of the report and no opportunity for an appropriate response from Police Scotland”.
The force 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 force pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The court heard Mr Yuill and Ms Bell went on a camping trip with friends on Saturday July 4 2015 to Loch Earn.
Mr Yuill, who held a provisional licence, was driving his car, supervised by a friend with a full licence.
The following morning he drove off in his car with Ms Bell, leaving the others sleeping.
When they failed to return home by evening, their parents called police to report them missing.
Member of the public noticed a blue car at the bottom of the embankment
Ashley Edwards QC, prosecuting, told the court a member of the public noticed a blue car partly obscured by bushes off the M9 motorway and called police at 11.29am on July 5 to report it.
She said: “The call handler did not create an incident for this call on the Storm system. He made a note of it in his book but the information was not transferred to Storm.”
She added: “The M9 call handler said an incident should have been created in Storm.”
The court heard that on July 8 another member of the public noticed a blue car at the bottom of the embankment and went to investigate.
Ms Edwards said: “On closer inspection he saw it was a blue car with two occupants. He saw a female moving her arms and moaning. She said, ‘help me, get me out’ and he tried to reassure her and called 999.”
Emergency services attended and Ms Bell, who was in the passenger seat, was airlifted to hospital with serious injuries, while Mr Yuill was pronounced dead at the scene.
Sir Stephen House, who was chief constable at the time of the incident, stepped down from the role at the end of 2015 following controversy over the deaths.
Finally, we can say – Lamara has justice
Diane Bell, mother of Lamara, welcomed the conviction of Police Scotland.
In an emotional statement, 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.”