Liberals want to know why a fatal accident inquiry can take up to eight years or more. Above: The scene of the M9 crash in which two died. Picture by Sky News.
By Lizzie Healey
Why do the families of people who have died in accidents have to wait so long for public inquiries to take place?
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie used the case of John Yuill and Lamara Bell, pictured above, who died when they were left in a crashed car for three days at the side of the M9 to draw attention to his question in the Scottish Parliament about delays in holding Fatal Accident Inquiries.
Mr Rennie, pictured right, told First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: “New information suggests that John Yuill could have survived if the police had responded to an emergency call in time, but we know that both he and Lamara Bell died when they were left at the side of the M9 motorway for three days.
“The accident happened four years ago, but there is still no fatal accident inquiry—and their families are not alone: our research has found that families across Scotland wait for up to eight years for a fatal accident inquiry into the death of their loved ones.
“Can the First Minister tell these families why on earth it is taking so long for them to get the answers that they deserve?”
Nicola Sturgeon, pictured left, said: “What happened in that case was unacceptable. There has been a great deal of investigation and lessons have been learned that will be applied.
“On the specific issue of fatal accident inquiries, I absolutely understand the frustration that families will often feel about the length of time that it takes for them to begin.
“However, the decision to hold a fatal accident inquiry and the timescale for initiating the inquiry are matters entirely for the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, pictured below right.
“In this capacity, the Lord Advocate operates independently of Government, so it would be wrong for me to seek to second-guess that decision-making process.
“Depending on the circumstances of a case, a death investigation can be complex and technical and often involves a number of different agencies.
“The Crown Office is committed to prompt investigations. However, it accepts that the time that has been taken to complete an investigation has been too long in some cases.
“Finally, the Government has made additional funding available to the Crown Office, some of which the Crown Office is using to support the Scottish fatalities investigation unit to try to reduce the time that is required to complete death investigations.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “It is in the interests of everyone that investigations and inquiries take place as quickly as possible. However, it is also important that the right processes are followed. The average number of days that are taken to complete fatal accident inquiries is reducing. However, that is of no comfort to any family who is still waiting for one to start.
“We take those issues seriously and continue to work with the Crown Office to address them.”