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Police Scotland admit failings “materially contributed” to M9 death

Police Scotland has pleaded guilty to health and safety failings and fined £100,000 over the death of a couple who lay in a crashed car at the side of the M9 for three days before being discovered.

The force admitted their failings “materially contributed” to the death of Lamara Bell, 25, who died alongside her partner John Yuill, 28, after their car crashed off the M9 near Stirling in July 2015.

A call was made to the force reporting the crashed car, but officers did not respond for three days. When they finally arrived at the scene, Mr Yuill was found to be dead and Ms Bell died four days later in hospital.

It later transpired an officer at the force's call-handling centre at Bilston Glen Service Centre failed to record a crucial 101 call reporting a vehicle 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 it 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”.

At the High Court in Edinburgh today (7 September), the force pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

They admitted 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.

The office of the Chief Constable of Police Scotland 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 Ms Bell’s death.

Passing sentence, Judge Lord Beckett said: “This case arose 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 anxiety.

“As days and hours went by she must have been in a state of disbelief that no help arose.”

He said it was “unprecedented” for Scotland’s police service to have been convicted in the High Court.

The judge said the fine took into consideration that it would be paid from the public purse and as the “normal level of fine would reduce the normal ability of the Police Service of Scotland to protect and serve the public”, and he set it at £100,000.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said that “lessons have been learned and improvements made”.

In a statement this afternoon he said: “The call handling system in place in 2015 exposed the public to an unacceptable risk and led to tragedy.

“People are entitled to expect help when their police service tells them they will respond.

“Our failure in July 2015 undoubtedly weakened the relationship of trust that exists in Scotland between policing and the communities we serve.

“Since that time, we have made changes to our approach which have resulted in significant improvements to reduce and mitigate risks associated with call handling and across policing.

“I am personally committed to leading the organisation through further change and improvement to lessen the possibility of such a dreadful event ever happening again”.

Sir Stephen House, now Deputy Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, was chief constable at the time of the incident. He stepped down from the role with Police Scotland five months after the crash.

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