Police Scotland and the Bannockburn deaths

Loch Earn, Stirlingshire

“I went past the crash, not even 100 yards away from her. If anything happens I’ve got to tell myself that.”

Lamara Bell and her partner John Yuill were visiting Loch Earn, Stirlingshire, in a blue Renault Clio on Sunday: their car went off the road Sunday evening.

An “experienced officer” was called at 11:30pm on Sunday night on the 101 non-emergency number by a member of the public who had spotted the car in which Lamara Bell and her partner John Yuill were lying – Yuill possibly already dead, Bell critically injured – down the embankment off the M9 near Stirling.

The “experienced officer” neither entered the call “into systems” nor sent out any message to operational teams in the area.

Eventually another 101 phonecall about the crashed car finally led police to it, shortly before 10am on Wednesday morning 8th July: but Yuill was dead, and Bell was dying.

For their families and friends, Bell and Yuill simply vanished, on Sunday, for nearly three days. The couple have five children between them. Their families and friends were trying to locate them, trying to find out what had happened.

Bell’s father Andrew drove past where the car was lying unseen, during the three days she was trapped injured in the car.

“On Sunday morning I drove past the exact spot. I was concentrating on the road and the cars going past me so I actually missed the junction.

“I went past the crash, not even 100 yards away from her. If anything happens I’ve got to tell myself that.”

Someone called the crash in on Sunday night. Some “experienced officer” then failed to do anything with that information. The crashed car was not connected with the two people who’d gone missing in their car.

Lamara Bell died in Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on Sunday morning.

“The Police Investigations & Review Commissioner has begun an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of a 28-year-old man and serious injury of a 25-year-old woman following the recovery of a car close to the M9 motorway at Bannockburn on 8 July 2015.

“The investigation will focus on why a telephone call made to Police Scotland on Sunday 5 July, which reported their car was off the road, was not followed up.

“The Commissioner’s investigation will also examine the robustness of Police Scotland’s missing person enquiry and look at why that enquiry was not linked with the information received in the call.

“Our team of investigators have now commenced enquiries to look into all these matters and establish what happened.”

Stephen House, Chief Constable of Police Scotland, says this is an “individual failure in our service”.

Is it?

John Yuill probably died on impact, so news report says. Lamara Bell was left for days. She thought she’d been there for half an hour, she said to the emergency-services responders: but the suffering of her parents, of her children, of all her family and friends, knowing that she was left at the side of the road, whether failed by an individual officer or by a system structurally not fit for purpose: Police Scotland need independent investigation. Stephen House needs to be answerable to outside authority.

Is it a structural failure in a system meant to operate by regions that’s been centralised over the whole of Scotland?

If the individual officer who should have logged and entered the crashed car is to blame, by all means, let’s see a tontine of blame descend. But if the investigation fails to look into the structural reasons why this apparently-experienced officer did not enter the crashed car into the systems and did not send out any local team to check the car for injured passengers, if all it seeks is a scapegoat, then the inquiry has failed.

Bell and Yuill, and their bereaved families, deserve better than that.

MMichael Matheson, the Scottish justice secretary,formally directed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) to undertake a “thorough and speedy” review of all police call handling.

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