M9 Police Failures "A Matter Of Time"

16 July 2015, 17:44

A former police worker's spoken out about the pressures of the job, claiming it was "just a matter of time" before a tragedy like the crash which killed John Yuill and Lamara Bell.

And, in an exclusive interview with Heart, the civilan - who worked for both Strathclyde Police and the single force - said they believe it's not the first time things have fallen through the cracks.

They came forward after it emerged the police call centre which took the message about the couple who had crashed off the M9 had a 10% absence rate less than a month before the incident.

The Scottish Conservatives, which uncovered the figures, described the situation at Police Scotland's east service centre in June as "completely unacceptable''.

Data also shows that service centre staff around Scotland have worked thousands of hours of overtime since the start of the new financial year.

Lamara Bell, 25, and her boyfriend John Yuill, 28, were involved in a crash off the M9 near Stirling on Sunday July 5 after visiting the Loch Earn area.

The incident was reported that day via a 101 call to police from a member of the public, but the message was not logged in the system and no action was taken at the time.

The pair were only discovered in the car three days later, on Wednesday July 8, after police received a further call to the scene.

Mr Yuill was found dead inside the blue Renault Clio. Ms Bell, who was discovered alive but critically ill, died in hospital in Glasgow a week on from the crash.

The ex-employee told us there was a huge change in the way they worked when the changeover from the legacy forces to Police Scotland happened: "It was always a busy job, don't get me wrong, but it was manageable. Police Scotland came in - all of a sudden it became a firefighting exercise and you were doing, say, 10 tasks probably half as well as you could actually manage, because you were trying to get so much done."

And they said something's got to give when people are working under relentless pressure: "Yes, it was an experienced officer who took the call, but how many other calls was that experienced officer taking? How many other jobs was he doing at the time?

"Obviously all this is going to come out in the review, but I think it could have happened to anyone, just because of the pressure that is on each and every person in that force."

An independent investigation is under way and a review of all police call handling is being carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS). Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has faced calls to resign.

Figures contained in a Scottish Police Authority report from last month show that in the force's police service centres - which handle non-emergency 101 calls - there were 36 members of staff absent as of mid-June.

That included 15 absent from the east centre at Bilston Glen, which is understood to have taken the call about the crash. The 15 absences, recorded on June 11, equated to an absence rate of 10.6%.

Figures in the report also show that staff in Scottish call centres had worked more than 8,300 hours in overtime from the start of April to "mitigate'' the impact of staff vacancies.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "An action plan was put in place in April by Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) to address recruitment and absence rates and as a result rates are improving.

"Action continues to be taken and the Scottish Government receives regular monitoring and assurance reports from the SPA.''