Christmas Shopping Day Turned To Tragedy

22 December 2015, 06:33

George Square bin lorry crash

It was a typically busy Christmas shopping day in Glasgow when tragedy struck last year.

Thousands of people were in the city centre on Monday December 22 visiting shops, restaurants and Christmas markets when a Glasgow City Council bin lorry turned into Queen Street at about 2.15pm.

The crew were chatting about their own Christmas plans but moments later driver Harry Clarke blacked out ''like a light switch''.

It took just 19 seconds for the tragedy to unfold and six people were killed and many more seriously injured as the truck mounted the pavement and careered along the road until it crashed into the Millennium Hotel.

All of those who died had been in the city centre preparing for Christmas - Erin McQuade and her grandparents Lorraine and Jack Sweeney had been out for lunch and shopping; Jacqueline Morton had finished work early and was on her way to pick up her grand-daughters; Gillian Ewing was heading for the train back to Edinburgh with her daughter Lucy; and school teacher Stephenie Tait was waiting to use a cash machine on Queen Street when the bin lorry mounted the pavement.

Ms Ewing, who lived in Cyprus, was in Scotland to spend her first Christmas with family in Edinburgh for four years and had travelled to Glasgow to replace a sentimental ring.

During the fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the crash, it emerged lorry driver Mr Clarke had a history of blackouts and medical issues that had not been disclosed to the DVLA or when he was applying for the council job in 2010.

Sheriff John Beckett QC, who chaired the FAI, ruled the crash might have been avoided if Mr Clarke had told the truth about his medical history.

The sheriff found the 58-year-old had ''repeatedly lied in order to gain and retain jobs and licences'', and ''deliberately concealed relevant information from the DVLA''.

The Crown Office has repeatedly ruled out any criminal charges over the crash but Mr Clarke still faces the prospect of a rare private prosecution led by the families.

When giving evidence to the FAI, he repeatedly refused to answer questions about his medical past.

He did talk briefly about the day of the crash and said: "Everything was okay, I saw the Christmas lights in the distance and the next minute ... it was like a light switch.''

The driver said the next thing he remembered was ''being attached to the hotel'' - the Millennium Hotel in George Square where the truck came to rest.

''I came to and I didn't know what had happened to me, I couldn't understand it. Matt was there, I said 'Matt, what happened?' and he couldn't talk to me."

In his evidence, he refused to apologise after being accused of telling a ''pack of lies'' about his medical history.

Mr Clarke resigned from his job with Glasgow City Council in October shortly before he was due to attend a disciplinary meeting.

He told a documentary aired days later that he ''unreservedly'' apologises for his role in the tragedy.

In a letter, Mr Clarke said: ''I understand that the impact of this event on me is irrelevant when compared to the loss that the families of the victims have suffered.

''I wish to unreservedly apologise for my role in this tragic event.''

Sheriff Beckett found eight ''reasonable precautions'' - all relating to Mr Clarke's medical past - whereby the accident might have been avoided and has made recommendations which could reduce the chance of another such tragedy from happening.

The families of the victims now want to see all the recommendations - including those aimed at Glasgow City Council and the DVLA - implemented to prevent another tragedy.

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