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Glasgow bin lorry crash driver Harry Clarke 'not lying or deceitful'

Published 28/08/2015

Harry Clarke was driving a bin lorry when it veered out of control last December in Glasgow, killing six people
Harry Clarke was driving a bin lorry when it veered out of control last December in Glasgow, killing six people

The driver of the bin lorry that killed six people in Glasgow just before Christmas did not set out to "inflict such unimaginable loss", an inquiry has heard on the day that it closed.

Harry Clarke, 58, lost consciousness at the wheel of the truck on December 22 last year.

His lawyer told the fatal accident inquiry at Glasgow Sheriff Court that Mr Clarke "is not a lying or deceitful man".

"He is a very ordinary man who has the failings of ordinary men," Paul Reid QC said. "He will carry this with him for the rest of his days."

Mr Reid made the submission shortly before Sheriff John Beckett brought the inquiry to a close, advising that he would endeavour to issue a written determination by January.

As the inquiry ended, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC defended the decision not to prosecute Mr Clarke, stating he has ''no doubt that the decision was the correct one in law''.

When called to give evidence to the inquiry, Mr Clarke repeatedly refused to answer questions about a previous blackout in 2010 as he could still face a rare private prosecution led by the family one of the victims, Jacqueline Morton.

Ms Morton, 51, from Glasgow, was killed along with Stephenie Tait, 29, also from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh.

Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, also died as the lorry driven by Mr Clarke veered out of control during a routine rubbish collection.

A statement read outside the court on behalf of the Morton family said: "The family feel that the answers that Mr Clarke could not give can be found in the evidence given by the other witnesses and documents laid before the inquiry.

''The inquiry has highlighted weaknesses in the system that makes it too easy for an individual to obtain and retain a driving licence when they are not fit to drive contrary to public safety.

"The actions of an individual cannot be allowed to lead to a tragedy on such a scale again."

The inquiry had previously heard evidence that he had a history of dizzy spells and fainting which he failed to disclose to the DVLA and on job application forms.

These included an incident in 2010 when Mr Clarke, who was working for First Bus at the time, was said to have blacked out while at the wheel of stationary bus.

Mr Reid said it had been his client's intention to answer any questions put to him at the inquiry until the ''theoretical'' prospect of a private prosecution ''became a reality''.

He said descriptions of Mr Clarke as "selfish or a coward" were "unfair".

When appearing at the inquiry, he was told by one lawyer that the tragedy was ''all your fault''. The accusation was ''unfair and unfounded'', Mr Reid said.

He said Mr Clarke had never been told by any medical professional prior to December 2014 that his medical history made him unfit to drive.

Mr Reid said: ''No indication was ever given to Mr Clarke to notify a medical condition to the DVLA. It was reasonable for him to rely on the doctors in that regard.

''To suggest that Mr Clarke should have known that he was unfit to drive because of his medical history has no basis in fact.''

Mr Reid added that it was ''simply incredible'' to suggest that his client had tried to ''cover up'' his medical history.

As he brought the inquiry to a close, Sheriff Beckett made it clear that he did not want to pre-judge his determination, but he said: "It may be the single most important outcome of inquiry could be to highlight the danger of driving with a medical condition that makes you unfit."

He said he hoped that all bus, lorry and professional drivers will now "reflect on their fitness to drive" and inform the DVLA of health issues.

"It may be that the tragic events will motivate all drivers, doctors and employers of drivers to make themselves aware of the DVLA guidance," the Sheriff said.

He also praised the families of the victims who attended court for their "composure and dignity" throughout the inquiry.

On the first day of the inquiry, CCTV footage of the crash was shown.

Sheriff Beckett said: "No-one who saw that film will ever forget the horror of those dreadful events as they unfolded.

"I repeat my personal expression of sympathy to the families of the victims and offer my condolences. It cannot have been easy to listen to much of what we have heard.

"Those in court maintained composure and dignity. I pay tribute to the way you have conducted yourselves."

He said he did "not intend to rush to judgement", stating the evidence heard required and deserved careful assessment.

Sheriff Beckett said he did not expect to issue his determination in less than two months, but he would endeavour to do so by January at the latest.

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