Scotland’s most senior police officer has been fined £100,000 after a seriously injured mother lay for three days in a car beside her dead partner.
Judge Lord Beckett ordered Police Scotland’s Chief Constable to pay the sum within 28 days.
The High Court in Edinburgh had earlier heard how Lamara Bell, 25, spent three days in July 2015 lying in a Renault Clio at the side of the M9.
Her partner John Yuill had already died in the crashed car, returning from a camping trip at Loch Earn, Perthshire.
A massive missing persons search was mounted, despite a call having already been made to report the crash.
Medics said Ms Bell could have survived without the delay.
Judge speaks of ‘Unimaginable distress’
Lord Beckett said: “This case arises 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 distress and anxiety.
“As the hours became days she must have felt disbelief that she could be injured and trapped in a car just off the roadway of the M9 motorway with no assistance arriving, a disbelief shared by the whole community when the full circumstances came to light.
“Both families spent days wondering what had happened to cause their unexplained disappearance before learning of the awful reality.
“Lamara Bell and John Yuill left behind grieving children, parents and siblings and I have been told of the profound impact on them.
“”There is no sentence this court can pass which reflects the inestimable value of life lost and harm caused.”
Family welcomes conviction
Ms Bell’s mother Diane welcomed the conviction.
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.”
Tragic mistake outlined
Police Scotland admitted failing to carry out a proper risk assessment at its call centre in Bilston Glen, Edinburgh, which could have identified flaws in how calls made to the force’s 101 number were handled.
The force acknowledged the failures at the call centre “materially” contributing to Ms Bell’s death.
The court heard how a police officer failed to record details of a phone call on the 101 non-emergency line from a member of the public on July 5 2015.
The man told the officer he saw Mr Yuill’s car lying in an embankment off the M9 motorway near Stirling.
This failure resulted in his colleagues not attending at the scene.
However, due to calls made by the families of Mr Yuill and Ms Bell to the force, officers launched a missing persons search for the couple.
Another man – Robert Findlay – found the couple’s car on July 8, 2015.
Mr Yuill was dead and Ms Bell was severely injured.
She died in Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital on July 12, 2015.
Medics believe she could have survived her injuries if she had been admitted to hospital on July 5.
Error contributed to death
On Tuesday, prosecutor Ashley Edwards QC described the police sergeant’s failure to record the July 5 call as “a simple human error”.
However, Lord Beckett said: “In this case, the court must express the community’s outrage at and its own condemnation of the fundamental failures uncovered during the investigation.
“It is unprecedented for the Police Service of Scotland to find itself accused and now convicted in the High Court.”
Police Scotland pled guilty to a charge of breaching the Health and Safety At Work Act.
The Office of the Chief Constable of Police Scotland admitted to failing to provide “an adequate and reliable call handling system” at its call centre in Bilston Glen, near Edinburgh.
It admitted failing to ensure there was “proper analysis and review” of near misses and failing to ensure that phone calls from members of the public “were recorded appropriately” on a Police Scotland IT system.
It admitted its failures “materially contributed” to the mum of two’s death.
Police savings from call centre shutdowns
At the time of the incident, Police Scotland was dealing with “substantial” restructuring issues.
The newly-merged force wanted to create a standard IT system and believed it could create savings from shutting call centres in Stirling and Glenrothes.
However, Ms Edwards said it became clear the Bilston Glen call centre was understaffed.
The court heard the call on the non-emergency 101 line, reporting the crashed car, was not recorded properly and no further action was taken.
The court also heard how John Wilson, the man who initially reported the car crash, was “shocked” to see activity at the site three days later.
“John Wilson spoke to Andrew Ross, a Service Advisor at Bilston Glen.
“The service advisor could find no record of John Wilson’s call on 5 July 2015.
“John Wilson advised him of his concerns about the missing persons reported in the press and said, ‘I hope to God it’s not them’.”
Ms Bell died in hospital
Ms Bell was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow by air ambulance later that day.
She was found to be suffering from “extensive” skull fractures, brain injuries as well as damage to her liver and heart and kidney failure.
She was placed on a ventilator but passed away on July 12 2015.
Ms Edwards said: “Had Lamara Bell survived the primary injury she would have been left with some neurological deficits, both with regard to motor skills and intellectual functioning.
“Various experts from a range of specialisms agreed that had Lamara Bell been admitted to hospital within six to eight hours of her primary injury, the secondary complications of the injury leading to her death would have been easier to manage and would have been substantially avoided.
“This would in all probability have led to her survival albeit with some long term neurological disability.”
Mr Yuill was found by the pathologists to have died “from head and abdominal injuries”.
Chief Constable apology
Defence counsel Murdo MacLeod QC said concerted efforts have been made to ensure robust measures are now in place.
Addressing the court on the level of fine to be imposed the defence counsel said that the force operated on a “hand to mouth” basis.
He added: “The economic reality is that the budget of Police Scotland is invested in ensuring public safety, rather than securing commercial interest or profit.”
He apologised to the victims’ families on behalf of Chief Constable, Iain Livingstone, who was present in court.
Lord Beckett said that whilst human error could never be entirely eliminated the changes in resources, training and procedure” that were subsequently implemented did go “a long way” to eliminating the particular mistake made in this case.