Glasgow Bin Lorry Families Get Legal Aid

9 March 2016, 14:13

The families pursuing a court bid to bring a private prosecution against Glasgow bin lorry crash driver Harry Clarke are to be given legal aid, the Scottish Government has decided.

Ministers agreed to make the funding towards the costs of a private prosecution available in light of the "unique and special circumstances'' of the case.

Legal aid will also be made available to Mr Clarke.

Six people died when the vehicle went out of control in Queen Street in December 2014.

A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) held last year heard Mr Clarke lost consciousness at the wheel and that he had a history of health issues - including a previous blackout in 2010 when at the wheel of a stationary bus - but had not disclosed his medical background to his employers or the DVLA.

The Crown Office insists there is insufficient evidence in law to raise criminal proceedings against Mr Clarke but the families of the victims disagree.

Lawyers for the family of crash victims Jack and Lorraine Sweeney and their granddaughter Erin McQuade have submitted the Bill for Criminal Letters - required for a rare private prosecution - to the High Court.

Three senior judges will sit "to determine further procedure'' on March 22 when the case calls in Edinburgh.

The hearing will also consider a similar bid to prosecute William Payne, lodged by the families of students Mhairi Convy and Laura Stewart, who were knocked down and killed in Glasgow in 2010.

Mr Payne will also be able to access legal aid. It is understood no application for funding was made by the families leading the prosecution bid in that case.

Announcing the decision in the bin lorry case, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: ``Private prosecutions are, and should remain, exceptionally rare in Scotland.

"However, in light of the unique and special circumstances of this case, which raises fundamental questions that have not previously been tested in case law, Scottish ministers believe it is in the public interest that all parties are adequately represented.

"As such, ministers have agreed to make legal aid available for the families of the bin lorry tragedy.''

It is understood the application for funding was for the upcoming hearing this month.

The legal aid announcement does not mean that ministers have taken a view on the merits of the private prosecution bid or the Crown's decision not to prosecute.

Mr Matheson added: "The issue of whether there are exceptional circumstances to justify a private prosecution is a matter for the High Court alone and do not form part of this legal aid decision.

"Responsibility for deciding whether or not to prosecute an alleged criminal case in Scotland rests clearly with the Crown Office, which has a strong record in prosecuting crime.

"The determination is not being made on the basis that ministers agree that there was any error in law in the decision by the Crown.

"The Lord Advocate has set out publicly the basis for the decision not to progress a prosecution following the bin lorry tragedy.''

The three other people who died when the bin lorry driven by Mr Clarke went out of control were Stephenie Tait, Jacqueline Morton and Gillian Ewing.

In the separate case, Ms Convy, 18, and Ms Stewart, 20, were walking in Glasgow's North Hanover Street on December 17 2010 when a Range Rover apparently lost control, mounted the kerb and hit them.

An FAI was held in 2014 into the deaths and Sheriff Andrew Normand found five ''reasonable precautions'' could have prevented the accident, which happened after Mr Payne suffered a ''vasovagal episode'' and temporarily lost consciousness.