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Glasgow bin lorry crash 'could have been avoided if driver declared blackout'

Published 29/07/2015

The crash in Glasgow city centre three days before Christmas left six people dead
The crash in Glasgow city centre three days before Christmas left six people dead

The Glasgow bin lorry crash that killed six people days before Christmas could have been avoided if the driver "had told the truth" in his job application to the city council, an inquiry has heard.

Harry Clarke was driving the council truck in Glasgow city centre on December 22 last year when it went out of control after witnesses reported he appeared to lose consciousness at the wheel.

Last week, the inquiry into the Queen Street tragedy heard evidence that he had collapsed while driving a bus in a previous job on the morning of April 7 2010.

The inquiry at Glasgow Sheriff Court was told today that Mr Clarke did not disclose the incident in three later medical assessments when applying for jobs at Glasgow City Council starting in 2010.

Dorothy Bain QC produced a form completed by Mr Clarke on December 15 2010 as part of a job application that stated he had only had seven days off in the previous two years, due to flu.

The lawyer, who is representing the family of victim Jacqueline Morton, later showed the inquiry Mr Clarke's First Bus employment record that showed he had been off between March 1 and 6 and then between April 7 and 30.

Both were marked as "sickness" on the form and an application for sick pay during the April absence detailed the illness as "vasovagal", which Ms Bain said was "a faint or blackout".

Ms Bain then showed a second medical questionnaire filled out by Mr Clarke in December 2011 when applying for a new job at the council road gritting department. It stated he had no absences in the last two years.

The documents were produced during cross-examination of Douglas Gellan, 48, cleaning services waste manager at the council.

Ms Bain said Mr Clarke had a third opportunity to declare the bus incident during a DVLA licence check in 2011. The D4 form needs to be completed by LGV drivers every five years once they turn 45.

A question on the form read: "Is there a history of blackout or impaired consciousness within the last five years?"

A box marking "No" had been ticked, the inquiry was shown.

Doctor Joanne Willox, who completed the form with Mr Clarke, told police in January that if she had known about the First Bus episode in 2010 she would have informed DVLA and the council, making him "temporarily unfit for duty".

Ms Bain, who read the police statement at the inquiry, then asked the witness: "She would have done this because you can't have someone who is prone to passing out behind the wheel of an LGV, can you?"

Mr Gellan said: "No."

Ms Bain continued: "Because the danger to the public would be of extraordinary proportions as we have seen in this case."

The witness agreed.

Ms Bain also told the witness that Mr Clarke's medical record showed he had reported vasovagal in 1989, had felt "dizzy behind the wheel" in 1994 and was told not to drive after a 2003 incident.

Mr Gellan said he had never heard anything about the record until today.

The council manager agreed when Ms Bain said: "If he had never been employed by the city council the six people who lost their lives three days before Christmas would still be here today."

She added: "If he had told the truth in his form to the council in 2010 and 2011 this all might have been prevented and we would not be here today."

Mr Gellan agreed and said Mr Clarke would not have been employed if the previous cases were known.

Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, were struck and killed by the lorry on December 22 last year.

Stephenie Tait, 29, and Ms Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, also died.

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