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Glasgow bin lorry crash driver 'may face charges in England'

Published 12/08/2015

Harry Clarke was driving the bin lorry on December 22 last year when it went out of control, killing six people
Harry Clarke was driving the bin lorry on December 22 last year when it went out of control, killing six people

The driver of the bin lorry that crashed in Glasgow killing six people will not be prosecuted in Scotland but could still face charges south of the border, a fatal accident inquiry has heard.

Solicitor General Lesley Thomson QC had been asked to clarify whether Harry Clarke could be prosecuted by the Crown Office in light of evidence which has emerged during the inquiry at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

She said in court today that the scope of the Crown's decision not to prosecute Mr Clarke, 58, extends beyond the December 22 crash to include information he provided to doctors, the DVLA and Glasgow City Council regarding a previous blackout in 2010.

But the inquiry later heard that a prosecution of Mr Clarke by the Crown Prosecution Service south of the border on behalf of the DVLA for failing to disclose his medical history is "under consideration".

Lawyers acting on behalf of the victims' families have also been asked to indicate if they intend to pursue a private prosecution against him.

The Crown Office issued a statement in February confirming it would not be pursuing any criminal charges in relation to Mr Clarke and the incident in George Square on December 22 last year.

But Sheriff John Beckett asked Ms Thomson if the Crown would bring fraud charges against Mr Clarke after the inquiry heard that he failed to disclose his health history to the DVLA and on job application forms.

Mr Clarke is said to have previously fainted while working as a bus driver but failed to disclose the incident when he joined Glasgow City Council.

Referring to the decision not to prosecute him, Ms Thomson said: "I consider that the scope of the decision in February 2015 described in respect of the tragic incident extends to all aspects of the manner of Mr Clarke's driving on December 22 as well as information previously provided to doctors, the DVLA and Glasgow City Council in respect of the incident in April 2010 when he was employed by First Bus."

The inquiry later heard evidence from Dr Gareth Parry, a senior medical adviser for the DVLA.

He was questioned by Dorothy Bain QC, representing victim Jacqueline Morton's family, over the possibility that Mr Clarke could be prosecuted by the CPS over charges of failing to disclose information to the licensing body.

Such a prosecution could be possible, she said, because the DVLA is headquartered in Swansea.

The inquiry heard that non-disclosures or false disclosures could be punishable by a £1,000 fine or two years' imprisonment, but Dr Parry said he was not aware of any such prosecutions in Scotland.

"Might it be that a good way of bringing home to people the need to make truthful declarations on a D4 (DVLA paperwork) form would be to prosecute robustly and rigorously those who make a false declaration?" Ms Bain asked.

Dr Parry agreed there would be an argument for such a move.

"If you don't tell the truth you are going to get prosecuted and you might end up in prison for two years - that might have a powerful effect," Ms Bain suggested.

Dr Parry replied: "Yes."

Ms Bain then went on to ask him if such a prosecution in Mr Clarke's case is "under consideration".

Dr Parry replied: "Yes."

Sheriff Beckett asked lawyers to provide clarity on whether there is a prospect of prosecution in England and Wales.

He has also called on lawyers acting for the victims' families to indicate whether they will seek a private prosecution following media reports.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the family of Ms Morton released a statement at the weekend stating that they believe Mr Clarke should be prosecuted by the Crown, challenging its position.

Sheriff Beckett said he was not seeking an immediate answer, but an indication is required before Mr Clarke is called to give evidence so that appropriate warnings can be given.

Speaking during a break in proceedings, one of the representatives of the families said they were "not surprised and remain disappointed" by Ms Thomson's comments regarding prosecution.

The inquiry also heard from a doctor who saw Mr Clarke on Christmas Eve, two days after the incident.

Dr John Leach, a consultant neurologist, assessed him to see if there was any past or current issue of epilepsy.

He told the inquiry that Mr Clarke "remembered little" after turning on to Queen Street on the day of the crash.

"His next memory was of hearing the words 'wake up' and it seemed like it was in the distance, but it was someone speaking to him from the back of the cab (of the lorry)," Dr Leach said.

He was unclear how much time had passed from his loss of consciousness to waking up, he added.

Dr Leach said that when he asked Mr Clarke about his previous medical history, he told him about an incident in 2008 when he felt "shivery" and an ambulance was called.

He said he did not lose consciousness and was not taken to hospital.

Asked if Mr Clarke could have been talking about 2010, Dr Leach said: "I would like to think that patients are fully accurate but an error of a couple of years over seven years wouldn't surprise me"

Ms Morton, 51, and Stephenie Tait, 29, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, were killed as the lorry travelled out of control along Queen Street and towards George Square before crashing in to the side of the Millennium Hotel.

Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, also died from multiple injuries after being hit by the truck on December 22 last year.

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