JUSTICE: Bin lorry crash driver ‘misled’ GP over medical history, court told

Harry Clarke was unconscious at the wheel when the bin lorry went out of control, killing six people, including a family from Dumbarton.

By Harry Bell

The driver of a bin lorry which crashed killing six people misled a GP about his medical past, a court has heard.

Harry Clarke collapsed while at the wheel of a Glasgow council bin lorry that killed six pedestrians and injured a dozen other people in December 2014.

Glasgow City Council is suing First Bus, Mr Clarke’s former employers, over a job reference the firm provided.

Another medic said, had he known the truth about a previous case, he would have deemed Mr Clarke unfit for work.

On the first day of the Court of Session hearing in Edinburgh, Roddy Dunlop QC, pictured left, representing First Bus, and Andrew Smith QC, representing the local authority, took witness statements from medical professionals linked to Mr Clarke and his former employers.

Evidence was heard from Mr Clarke’s GP, Dr Gerard McKaig and Mr Clarke who told Dr McKaig that he fainted in a warm canteen building in April 2010, but it later transpired that he had lost consciousness behind the wheel of a stationary bus.

In his witness statement, the GP said had he known about Mr Clarke fainting behind the wheel of a bus, he would have “warranted a much fuller investigation” into his health at the time.

Bin lorry crash scene The Glasgow City Council bin lorry crashed killing six people on 22 December 2014

Witness statements were also given by the former clinical lead for Bupa’s occupational health services in Scotland, Dr Peter Warnock.

Dr Warnock told the hearing that had he been made aware of Mr Clarke’s loss of consciousness behind the wheel in 2010, he would have deemed him “unfit for work” until a health investigation was carried out to the DVLA’s satisfaction.

A 2015 inquiry into the incident heard the tragedy took just 19 seconds to unfold.

(Clockwise from top left) Jack Sweeney, Lorraine Sweeney, Erin McQuade, Jacqueline Morton, Stephenie Tait and Gillian Ewing were killed in the crash
(Clockwise from top left) Jack Sweeney, Lorraine Sweeney, Erin McQuade, Jacqueline Morton, Stephenie Tait and Gillian Ewing were killed in the bin lorry crash

Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton; Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow; and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, died in the crash.

A further 15 people were injured when the Glasgow City Council lorry veered out of control.

It travelled along the pavement through heavy pre-Christmas traffic  in Queen Street before crashing into the side of the Millennium Hotel in George Square.

Mr Clarke, 64, when interviewed for the job with Glasgow City Council in September 2010, was offered the position in December after completing a Bupa medical questionnaire.

And that Mr Clarke collapsed while driving the 26-tonne vehicle in the city centre, causing it to veer out of control and crash into the pedestrians, killing six people and injuring more than a dozen others.

Mr Clarke collapsed while driving the vehicle in the city centre in December 2014.

The hearing was told that Mr Clarke was among more than 300 people to apply for the role of “land and environmental driver”.  He was interviewed in September 2010 and offered the role in December.

As part of the recruitment process, he had to answer a Bupa questionnaire about his health and was assessed by a council official as “suitable … from a health perspective” based on his answers.

He had declared one episode of sickness leading to seven days off in the past two years, the court heard.

However, presiding judge Lord Ericht heard that Mr Clarke’s GP, Dr Gerard McKaig, confirmed he had been misled on Mr Clarke’s medical history prior to the crash.

Mr Clarke told his GP that he fainted in a warm canteen building in April 2010, but it later transpired he had lost consciousness behind the wheel of a stationary bus.

In a witness statement, Dr McKaig said had he known about Mr Clarke fainting behind the wheel of a bus, he would have “warranted a much fuller investigation” into his health at the time.

Conditions of Mr Clarke’s employment outlined in his December 2010 offer letter included “satisfactory clearance of your pre medical questionnaire; satisfactory references, and satisfactory enhanced disclosure Scotland check”.

Glasgow City Council operations manager, Stewart Young, said he has been unable to locate a reference for Mr Clarke despite an “exhaustive search of the customer and business service records”.

However, he added in his witness statement a council spreadsheet states that “a reference had been received for Mr Clarke direct from the recruiting manager and then approved by him on March 25, 2011”.

The hearing continues.

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