Glasgow Bin Lorry Crash Driver Avoids Jail For Motoring Offence
31 March 2017, 16:43
The driver of a bin lorry which crashed killing six people has avoided jail after admitting culpable and reckless driving on a separate occasion just nine months after the tragedy.
Harry Clarke, 60, admitted driving a car in Glasgow on September 20 2015 to the danger of the public despite his licence having been revoked for medical reasons.
Six people died in December 2014 when the refuse lorry lost control in the city centre.
Clarke was sentenced at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Friday after pleading guilty to the 2015 offence at a hearing last month.
He was given a three-year driving ban, 12-month supervision order and 150 hours' unpaid work. He will also have to wear an electronic tag.
Clarke had admitted driving in the knowledge he had suffered a loss of consciousness while at the wheel of a moving refuse collection vehicle on December 22 2014, resulting in the deaths and leaving 15 more people injured.
He also knew he had suffered a loss of consciousness or episode of altered awareness while at the wheel of a stationary bus on April 7, 2010.
His licence had been revoked for 12 months on June 27, 2015, and the charge states that he knew or ought to have known that he was unfit to drive, and that there was a risk he might lose consciousness or suffer an episode of altered awareness while driving.
He was not prosecuted over the bin lorry crash, with the Crown Office insisting there was insufficient evidence to raise criminal proceedings.
Jack and Lorraine Sweeney, 68 and 69, and their granddaughter Erin McQuade, 18, Stephenie Tait, 29, Jacqueline Morton, 51, and Gillian Ewing, 52, died in the incident.
A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) heard Clarke had a history of health issues but had not disclosed his medical background to his employers or the DVLA.
Sheriff John Beckett QC, who chaired the FAI, ruled the crash might have been avoided if Clarke had told the truth about his medical history.
In a rare legal move, relatives of three crash victims sought permission from senior judges to bring charges against him in a private prosecution.
However, judges at the Appeal Court in Edinburgh ruled in November last year the family could not launch a private prosecution.
In February, Glasgow Sheriff Court heard Clarke's licence was revoked by the DVLA on medical grounds in June 2015 after they became aware of the incident in 2010 in addition to the incident in December 2014.
His licence to drive cars was revoked for 12 months and his licence to drive buses and lorries for 10 years.
Senior Fiscal Depute Martin Allan told the court a neighbour spotted Clarke driving out of the car park of his home in the Baillieston area of Glasgow at about 8pm on the evening of September 20 2015 and called the police.
He said: ''Mr Clarke was rummaging in the boot of his car and the neighbour went home and told his girlfriend, and they looked out of the window.
"After watching for 30 seconds to two minutes, both saw the accused get into the driver's seat, switch on the lights and drive out of the car park onto Buchanan Street. He was the sole occupant of the car.
''Both were suspicious about his ability to drive because of the media coverage and they did some research online and found that his licence had been revoked on medical grounds. They called the police at 8.04pm.
"While waiting for the police between 10.15pm and 10.20pm, they saw his car return again to the car park and it parked up in the usual space.
"He got out and went to the boot to get carrier bags.''
Police went to Clarke's home on September 22 and he was cautioned and charged. The court heard that he told police: ''I have never been out on a public road, I've just moved the car in the private car park.''
Clarke was originally charged with three other road traffic offences relating to insurance and licence matters, however his not guilty pleas were accepted by the Crown.
Mr Allan said on Friday: "It is of course the Crown's position that it was the very act of driving at all, be it 30 yards or 30 miles, that was culpable and reckless and endangered the public.''
Ross Yuill, defending Clarke, said his client drove from the residents' car park of his block of flats through a tunnel onto Buchanan Street and parked near the main entrance to the building so that he could unload some heavy items.
He said Mr Clarke drove around 30 yards on the public road.
He added: "He wholly accepts that that decision was a gross error of judgment.''
Mr Yuill said that his client was under stress at the time as he was aware of the possibility of a private prosecution against him in relation to the bin lorry crash.
The lawyer said: "Nothing I say in mitigation is intended in any way to diminish the events of December 22 2014 and the losses suffered by so many people on that day.''
He said that a social work report had assessed Clarke as being of minimal risk of further offending and that at the age of 60 this was his first criminal conviction.
Sheriff Martin Jones QC told Clarke that he passed the "custody threshold'' but that he was legally prevented from jailing him because he was a first offender.
He said that following the bin lorry crash Clarke was diagnosed with a medical condition that sometimes resulted in temporary loss of consciousness.
He said: "The history you provided suggested that you had no prior warning before the episode of December 2014 which made it very difficult to predict whether the episodes will ever recur.''
He said Clarke's decision to drive in September 2015 was "against that background''.
Mr Jones added: "You must understand that your decision to drive your vehicle on the road even a short distance was wholly irresponsible and reprehensible. You placed the public at risk.
"You must have been acutely aware of the consequences of you suffering a loss of consciousness when driving following the incident in 2014.''