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22 August 2016, 16:15
Scotland's top law officer has agreed it would be "inconceivable'' for there not to be a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into last year's deadly M9 crash, as he revealed there is still considerable work to be carried out on the case.
Lamara Bell, 25, and John Yuill, 28, died after lying in a crashed car for three days after the incident was first reported to police.
Mother-of-two Ms Bell was critically injured in the crash off the motorway near Stirling and later died in hospital. Her partner Mr Yuill died at the scene.
It emerged that a phone call to police reporting a vehicle off the road on July 5, 2015 was not followed up.
Investigations were launched into the crash and the wider circumstances surrounding the deaths and some investigatory work remains ongoing.
Former lord advocate Frank Mulholland QC - who stepped down from the role earlier this year - said he would expect an FAI to be held, given the level of public concern over the incident.
The new Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, agrees.
In a letter to Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, Mr Wolffe said: "As you know, the former advocate considered that this was a case of the utmost seriousness. He was committed to ensuring the matter was investigated thoroughly. I share that view.
"When the investigations, which go beyond the work the procurator fiscal has directed the Pirc (Police Investigations and Review Commissioner) to do, are completed the case must be reported to Crown counsel.
"All options that are open to Crown counsel when considering a sudden death will be available. One of these options is for Crown counsel to instruct that a fatal accident inquiry should be held.
"Like my predecessor, I consider it inconceivable that a fatal accident inquiry will not be held given the public concern over this tragedy.
"The investigations are, at present, ongoing and there is considerable work to do before the case can be reported to Crown counsel.''
Reports by the Pirc, which was tasked with examining the wider circumstances surrounding the deaths, have been submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). The interim report was handed over in November last year, while a supplementary report was submitted in June.
Mr Rennie said the new Lord Advocate must ensure the investigation work proceeds as quickly as possible so an FAI can begin.
He said: "The fact that the new Lord Advocate holds the same view as his predecessor is welcome. This will help ensure that no stone is left unturned as we seek the answers that we need over the tragic M9 crash.
"An FAI is the best way to ensure that the circumstances that led to the crash and the failure to respond are fully understood. The families deserve nothing less.''
A Crown Office spokesman said: "The Lord Advocate has said it would be inconceivable that a fatal accident inquiry would not be held into the M9 incident given the level of public concern over this tragedy.
"The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) has submitted a supplementary report to the Crown Office in connection with the incident and it is being considered extremely carefully.
"There remains a considerable amount of work to be done on this investigation and it must be conducted with the utmost thoroughness in order to get the families the answers they deserve.
"We will ensure that the relatives are kept fully informed of developments in the case during the ongoing investigation.''
A Pirc spokesman said: "The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) is currently considering the content of both reports submitted by the commissioner on her independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of John Yuill, 28, and Lamara Bell, 25.
"We have received no instruction from the COPFS to undertake any further enquiries in relation to this investigation. The commissioner will undertake further enquiries as required.''