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Case dropped against ambulance driver

Kristine Hutchison
Kristine Hutchison

An ambulance driver accused of driving carelessly as she responded to a 999 call broke down in tears yesterday when she discovered the charges against her had been dropped.

Kristine Hutchison was on her way to an emergency when she drove through a red light in Aberdeen at less than 10mph.

The ambulance’s flashing blue lights and sirens were on – but it collided with an oncoming car which failed to stop or pull over to let it pass.

Car driver Niamh Maloney was injured, and Ms Hutchison was charged by the police with driving without due care and attention.

The 46-year-old, who was due to go on trial at Aberdeen Sheriff Court yesterday, denied the allegation and insisted she was driving in accordance with her emergency response training.

And yesterday – eight months after the incident – prosecutors dropped the case against her and said no further action would be taken.

The accident happened at the junction with Beechgrove Terrace and Rosemount Place in Aberdeen.

Last night, politicians and union representatives claimed lives were being put at risk as a result of growing concerns among emergency workers who fear they may be prosecuted for simply carrying out their jobs.

North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “Who wants to think when you are in dire need of an ambulance, possibly suffering from a heart attack, they will have to sit through every red light on the way to get to you for fear of prosecution?”

He added: “I hope whoever is making these decisions to prosecute an emergency worker is aware of the impact it will have on the rest of the industry and their ability to respond effectively to call outs in future.”

The case against Ms Hutchison was dropped less than a month after on-duty police firearms officer John Kearney was granted an absolute discharge by a sheriff for driving dangerously en route to a potentially life-threatening incident.

At the time, Sheriff Annella Cowan ruled that she was not going to punish the constable as she did not want the public to lose confidence in the ability of the emergency services to be able to respond to 999 calls efficiently.

She told Aberdeen Sheriff Court that the manner of driving she had observed in CCTV footage did not, in her opinion, show anything which was unusual for an emergency vehicle on the way to a serious incident.

The sheriff said that, although the driving described in the charge admitted by Constable Kearney would normally be described as “dangerous”, the emergency services should be exempt from certain road traffic laws when there was serious risk of life.

Last night Ms Hutchison, of Macdonald Road, Stonehaven, told the Press and Journal that there was a fear among her colleagues that driving in the manner they had been trained to may lead to a criminal conviction.

She said: “It is not just fear of being prosecuted, it is the financial burden that comes with it. Despite being relieved that this is all over I have had to pay for all my legal representation myself.

“I was just trying to do my job that day. It should never have come to this. If I had been convicted I may very well have lost my job and because I was still employed I was not entitled to any legal aid.

“If emergency workers continue to be prosecuted it will undoubtedly affect the way we respond to emergencies.”

Unite union regional officer Tommy Campbell, who has been supporting Ms Hutchison throughout her ordeal, said last night she had received a lack of support from her employer since the accident on October 6.

He said he had sent a letter to Pauline Howie, the chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), asking if it would be possible to provide Ms Hutchison with some legal assistance. He is still awaiting a reply.

He added: “The public will clearly understand that in an emergency there is an expectation that the ambulance driver will want to get to the injured or very ill person as quickly as possible, and also get them to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible, without fear of being charged with speeding or any other road traffic offences.

“It may now also need closer examination by politicians to look at the law to see how it can be developed to show greater understanding and protection when it comes to dealing with accidents involving emergency services drivers.”

An SAS spokesman said last night the service would not comment on individual cases.

A Crown Office spokesman said: “It is the duty of the Crown to keep cases under review, and after full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, the procurator fiscal decided that there should be no further proceedings.”