THE father of a boy killed by an unsafe gravestone has condemned council chiefs for spending £180,000 on lawyers to defend their reputation.
Ryan Williamson said the local authority’s legal bill for the Fatal Accident Inquiry into his son Ciaran’s death was obscene.
The eight-year-old was fatally crushed when an 8ft gravestone fell on him in May 2015.
Ryan and Ciaran’s gran, Margaret Aitken, said they were “disgusted” to learn how much was paid to lawyers during the FAI, arguing if the cash had been spent on graveyard maintenance the tragedy wouldn’t have happened.
Ryan said: “I am absolutely furious, and it’s sickening to know that if they had invested that money in making sure the cemetery was safe my son would still be here.
“They have absolutely no grip on reality.
“On top of this, I applied for legal aid for the inquiry and was refused it, twice, while tax payers are footing the bill for their team of top lawyers to try and get them out of accepting that they didn’t do their jobs properly. It’s an utter sham, and whoever agreed to these fees should have a look at themselves.”
Margaret added: “This is absolutely disgusting.
“During the inquiry, we heard a few times that things weren’t done and it was put down to a lack of funding.
“How can they find this kind of money for lawyers’ bills but not have the cash for public safety? It’s a complete disgrace.”
The inquiry into Ciaran’s death lasted 10 months, finishing in August 2017.
A council employee said he had raised concerns about the lack of inspections in 2013, but was told they were “beyond current resources”.
Within four days of Ciaran’s death, up to 900 headstones had been laid flat in the cemetery where he died and all of the city’s cemeteries were then fully checked for unsafe memorials.
Glasgow City Council’s spokesman said: “The purpose of a Fatal Accident Inquiry is to allow court to examine and determine the circumstances of a death – and it is important that any individuals or organisations that can assist the sheriff are represented appropriately.
“Given the length and complexity of this Inquiry, it was appropriate to instruct counsel.”
It comes as The Sunday Post can reveal that headstones in at least five local authorities’ graveyards have not been safety checked, while other councils rely on staff or the public to report problems.
Dumfries and Galloway, Falkirk, Fife, South Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire are still checking all of their headstones following Ciaran’s death while two councils, Perth and Kinross and Moray, admitted their inspections are done ad-hoc, if a member of the public or employee raises concerns.
Ciaran’s family is campaigning for a change in the law to make sure councils step up to ensure their burial grounds are safe.
The calls are backed by the family’s lawyer Eilish Lindsay, of Thompsons solicitors, who said: “We’re pleased to see that some councils have taken steps to make some changes, and we hope the Scottish Government does implement the changes that have been suggested by Sheriff Ruxton.
“It shouldn’t be that each local authority is left to their own devices with something so serious, where the gravity of injury is such that it can result in disastrous consequences.”
Industry guidance varies on how to properly carry out safety checks. Abiding by their policies is not mandatory in Scotland and neither is ensuring staff are professionally trained on how to do it.
Seven local authorities said staff had not been trained by professional bodies, while the numbers of trained inspectors in other councils vary hugely.
In the Highlands, just one trained member of staff, backed up by untrained colleagues, is responsible for inspecting headstones in 146 graveyards, while Argyll and Bute has 16 trained employees covering their 130 sites and East Ayrshire employs 37 qualified testers for just 45 graveyards.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This is a tragic set of circumstances and our sympathies remain with Ciaran’s family. The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 enables Scottish Ministers to make regulations which will ensure the safety of headstones.
“In addition, Ministers will appoint inspectors to oversee the operation of burial authorities, including burial grounds.
“These important measures will ensure that burial ground safety is given appropriate priority.”