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Glasgow bin lorry crash driver may only give limited answers to inquiry

Published 19/08/2015

The bin lorry being driven by council worker Harry Clarke crashed in Glasgow's George Square last December, killing six people
The bin lorry being driven by council worker Harry Clarke crashed in Glasgow's George Square last December, killing six people

The Glasgow bin lorry crash driver may not have to answer any question beyond his name, age and occupation when he gives evidence at a fatal accident inquiry into the tragedy.

Harry Clarke, 58, will be called to give evidence to the inquiry on Thursday after a motion to have it halted was withdrawn by the family of one of the victims.

But the inquiry heard that while the prospect of a private prosecution remains, he is entitled not to answer any question that might incriminate him.

On Monday, relatives of Jacqueline Morton, 51, who was killed in the crash, said they would seek to bring charges against Mr Clarke after prosecutors ruled out doing so.

Their legal team requested that the inquiry into the December 22 tragedy be adjourned in order to seek authority to bring a rare private prosecution against him.

But Dorothy Bain QC, representing the family of Ms Morton, today told the inquiry, now in its fifth week, they had withdrawn the motion to have the inquiry adjourned.

However, she said the family intends to continue to pursue a private prosecution against Mr Clarke.

Ms Bain said the scope of that had not yet been analysed "to any significant degree", but she presented a table to the inquiry setting out possible charges, including causing death by dangerous driving, making false declarations to the DVLA and culpable and reckless conduct.

Solicitor General Lesley Thomson QC, who is leading the inquiry, said: "He is entitled to have a warning in relation to the full scope of the evidence and in my submission he would be entitled to have regard to that warning and not answer anything beyond his name, age and occupation."

Explaining the decision to drop the motion, Ms Bain said: "May I say that the family are finding these proceedings stressful and most worrying and having regard to further discussions and understanding the other families' positions, the Morton family are now not insisting on this motion.

"They feel it is in the best interests of everyone to conclude this inquiry without delay.

"The family's position on a private prosecution has not changed at all and they fully intend to continue with that."

Mr Clarke was behind the wheel of the council refuse truck that veered out of control on a busy shopping street, killing Ms Morton, from Glasgow, and five others.

The inquiry, at Glasgow Sheriff Court, has heard evidence that he has a history of dizzy spells and fainting which he failed to disclose to the DVLA and on job application forms.

Mr Clarke is the only witness remaining.

His solicitor Paul Reid said he had not had the opportunity to consult with his client or take his instructions on the latest development.

Ms Bain told the inquiry that any possible private prosecution could hypothetically consider an alleged "course of conduct" by Mr Clarke from "at least 2008 to April 2015".

She said that while Mr Clarke was entitled to a warning, he could choose to answer any questions that were put to him.

Ms Thomson said: "I intend to ask him every single matter whether I get an answer or not and that may take some time."

Mr Reid said he wanted "the opportunity to reflect on both the change in position and the helpful clarification of the scope of any prosecution" and to discuss the matter further with his client tomorrow morning.

On Monday, the legal team representing the family of victim Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, said they supported the motion for adjournment but today they backed its withdrawal.

Relatives of 29-year-old Stephenie Tait, from Glasgow, have said they would not be involved in any private prosecution.

Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton, also died in the tragedy.

The Crown Office ordered an investigation into the circumstances of the accident after ruling that there was no evidence to warrant criminal proceedings.

The DVLA last week ruled out taking any action against Mr Clarke, who was a driver with First Bus before taking up a job with Glasgow City Council in 2011.

The inquiry has heard evidence that he blacked out at the wheel of a stationary bus in Glasgow in April 2010.

Doctors diagnosed Mr Clarke with vasovagal syndrome, a condition that affects the heart rate and blood pressure.

Witnesses on the day of December's crash reported seeing the lorry driver slumped at the wheel as the vehicle mounted the pavement on Queen Street and careered up the road towards George Square where it crashed into the Millennium Hotel.

Sheriff John Beckett adjourned the inquiry until 11am tomorrow.

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