THE father of a Clutha victim has branded the five-year wait for an inquiry into the tragedy “absolutely pathetic.”
Ian O’Prey, whose son Mark, 44, died in the tragedy, when a police helicopter crashed into a busy pub in 2013, spoke out as the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire opened in London.
Hearings began last week into the tower block blaze in London last June when at least 72 people died. But more than four years after a police helicopter crashed onto the roof of the Clutha Vaults pub in Glasgow, Mr O’Prey and other relatives of the 10 people who died are still waiting for answers.
He said: “We were promised it would happen within a year initially. I don’t know what is wrong and who is at fault, but something seems to be out of kilter. The whole thing is pathetic, absolutely pathetic. It has a traumatic effect on us as it is being dragged out for so long. I don’t think they care and they are more interested in process.”
The Crown Office say a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) will be held in the autumn but it is not known when or where it will be held.
And one legal expert warned legislation which was supposed to reform FAIs in Scotland has made no real difference to bereaved families and has only been an “exercise in gesture politics”.
The Grenfell inquiry was announced by Prime Minster Theresa May the day after the tragedy happened.
The public inquiry opened last week with families paying poignant tributes to the victims of the fire and officials insist the victims, survivors and their families are at the heart of the inquiry.
The Clutha helicopter crash happened on 29th November 2013. In 2015, a report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch was published which found the pilot David Traill did not follow emergency protocol and flew on despite low fuel warnings.
In the wake of the findings, the Crown Office said a fatal accident inquiry would be held as soon as possible. However, it was only last November it was announced the first hearing is likely to begin in autumn this year.
Mr O’Prey, 71, said the inquiry would happen “maybe by the end of the century”.
“I have no confidence in them whatsoever,” he said. “A criminal would be better treated than the families.”
“Why can it happen so quickly in the case of Grenfell?”
Meanwhile, families of four people who died when a Super Puma helicopter crashed on its approach to Sumburgh in August 2013 are still waiting to hear if an FAI will even happen.
Anne Darnley, the mother of 45-year-old victim Sarah Darnley, from Elgin, said they had been expecting to hear an update in the first half of this year – which is almost over.
She said: “When it will be, we still don’t know. I just feel it is something we have to go through. The sooner it is over the better as far as I am concerned because nothing is going to bring them back. I would like to see it held as soon as possible. It is coming up for five years in August since it happened.
“They are never out of your mind anyway, but knowing you have to go it through all again – you have to try and not let it take you over. I am frightened of what it is going to bringh. It could make things worse – but if it has to be it has to be.”
Mrs Darnley, 78, said in the early stages following the tragedy she had been told it would not take as long as an inquiry into a Super Puma crash in the North Sea which killed 16 men, which was held in 2014 – five years after the tragedy happened.
But she said: “We are up to the same timing now. At the very beginning I was told there would be an FAI and it would take about a year to a year and half.
“That has long gone.”
Tommy Campbell, regional officer for Aberdeen for Unite the union, said it was a “disgrace” that it took years for an FAI to be held.
He said: “It’s good news that there is the inquiry into the Grenfell disaster – quite rightly that is happening as quickly as possible. Inquiries should take place within reasonable timescales of about a year of any major accident, such as a helicopter accident.
“They need to be held quickly and they should have teeth and be able to make decisions which result in criminal prosecutions where that would be justified.”
In 2016, sweeping changes to the FAI system in Scotland were introduced by the Scottish Government, which said it would introduce an “effective, efficient and fair” system to bring the law on FAIs into the 21st Century.
Patrick McGuire, partner at Thompsons Solicitors, which is representing some of the Clutha families, said there had been improvements, such as having to give reasons if an FAI is not going ahead.
But he added: “The problem is that while so much of what on the face of it could be good, in practice there has been no real change. What I see as currently the epitaph of the 2016 Act is that it an opportunity completely and utterly missed and lost. And it is one where I have yet to see any real practical difference.”
Mr McGuire said an example was families being allowed to make representations about the scope and width of an FAI at the preliminary hearing.
“The rules arguable permit that – practically it doesn’t happen,” he said. “As far as I am concerned the 2016 Act was no more than an exercise in gesture politics – it is not what is should be and it is certainly not what it could be.
“I don’t see the experience of the families is any better, they are certainly not at the heart of the process as they ought to be.”
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said it appreciated the impact lengthy investigations can have on those involved.
A spokeswoman said: “We are committed to resolving them as soon as we can and keeping the families informed of significant developments. Our priority must be to carry out a full and thorough investigation and, in complex cases this takes time.”
She said the investigation into the Clutha helicopter crash had been wide-ranging and involved the collection of a significant volume of documentation, including highly technical manuals and guidance, and taking detailed statements from witnesses, including professionals in the aviation industry.
“Some of that material and information has been ingathered from organisations based abroad,” the spokeswoman added. “In an investigation such as this, the police and the Crown require to rely on the cooperation of companies and organisations in relation to, for example, provision of material and availability of witnesses for interview.”
The Scottish Government said the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc (Scotland) Act 2016 (CORR) was passed unanimously by Parliament and reformed and modernised FAIs in Scotland.
It added: “The new legislation came into force just under a year ago and enabled, for example, FAIs into deaths at the Snowman Rally in Inverness and Jim Clark Rally near Coldstream to be held jointly – allowing issues to be considered and recommendations to be made jointly.”
Timeline of tragedy
The Ibrox Disaster
January 2, 1971
A crush on a stairway at an Old Firm game led to 66 deaths. The disaster prompted a fatal accident inquiry which got under way the following month. A second inquiry, to look at crowd safety at sports grounds, was announced in February 1971.
E. coli outbreak
Twenty-one people died and 160 were admitted to hospital during an outbreak of E. coli linked to a butcher’s shop in Wishaw. A fatal accident inquiry got under way 17 months after the first deaths.
Rosepark Care Home fire
January 31, 2004
Fourteen residents died when fire ripped through a care home in Uddingston, South Lanarkshire. It was six years before a fatal accident inquiry convened in 2010.
May 11, 2004
Nine people died in an explosion at the plastics factory in Maryhill, Glasgow, which also left 33 others seriously injured. The disaster was blamed on a gas leak. A public inquiry began in 2008.
Flying Phantom tugboat
December 19, 2007
Three men died when a boat sank on the Clyde. An FAI was not held after it was ruled criminal proceedings had already established the reasons for the tragedy.
Super Puma crash
April 1, 2009
Two crew and 14 oil workers were killed when a Super Puma helicopter crashed into the North Sea around 11 miles off Peterhead. Relatives of the victims criticised the five-year wait for the FAI.
Bin lorry crash
December 22, 2014
Six people were killed and 17 people injured when a bin lorry veered out of control near George Square.
An FAI got under way in July 2015, which found the tragedy could have been avoided if driver Harry Clarke had not lied about his history of blackouts.