The wait for a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the M9 crash that police took three days to attend has been “glacial and agonising”, Willie Rennie has said.
John Yuill, 28, and his partner Lamara Bell, 25, died after their car crashed off the road near Stirling in July 2015. Despite a call being made to police, it took them three days to respond.
When officers finally arrived at the scene, Mr Yuill was found to be dead and Ms Bell died later in hospital.
On the five-year anniversary of the crash, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Mr Rennie said the wait for answers endured by the couple’s friends and family has been “unforgivable”.
He added: “It has been five years since the accident. It has been four years since the Lord Advocate told me it would be ‘inconceivable’ not to hold an FAI ‘given the public concern over this tragedy’.
“I warned then the wait was already too long. I am appalled.”
Mr Rennie repeated his calls for the FAI system to be reformed, with the responsibility for carrying out investigations stripped from the Crown Office, in order to avoid other grieving families becoming “trapped in this prolonged process”.
He added: “The Crown Office has shown itself incapable of handling FAIs. It has let down too many families and public can’t have confidence in a system that routinely subjects people to these delays.
“It is therefore time to look at removing FAIs from its responsibilities. We need a comprehensive new system of checks and balances to drive the process forward.
“Two families waiting years for closure is a scandal, but the fact Scotland’s broken FAI system routinely does this and worse to family after family is horrifying. It is adding to their torment.
“Years tick by without lessons being learned, potentially putting more lives at risk and undermining the value of the whole process. Recollections get vaguer.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times warnings and heartache have been met with promises of change. I’m sick of seeing more grieving families become trapped in this prolonged process.”
A Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPF) spokesman said the investigation into the M9 crash is still ongoing.
He added: “The case team and staff from our victim information and advice service have communicated with family members and their legal representatives throughout, and will continue to keep them informed of any significant developments in relation to the investigation.”
An independent review of FAIs by HM Chief Inspector of Prosecution in August 2019 found the process was characterised by “lengthy intervals of unexplained delays” and “periods of inactivity”.
The COPF spokesman explained 14 additional staff – including eight lawyers – have been employed in an attempt to speed up investigations, with 58 cases closed last year, up from 42 in 2018-19.
He added: “The nature and extent of the investigation required in relation to any death or group of deaths will depend on the particular circumstances.
“COPFS progresses each investigation as expediently as it can.
“Through the application of additional resources and modernised working practices, COPFS is striving to ensure the investigation of sudden and unexpected deaths in Scotland will be both thorough and timely.”