Crash not recorded in police system after phone call, M9 deaths inquiry told

A police officer failed to log a telephone call from a member of the public who had witnessed a car crash which led to the deaths of a couple who were left undiscovered for days, an inquiry has heard.

A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the deaths of Lamara Bell, 25, and John Yuill, 28, began at Falkirk Sheriff Court on Monday.

The couple died after the car they were in crashed on the M9 motorway near Stirling in July 2015.

They were left lying in their Renault Clio for three days before being discovered, despite police previously being alerted to the incident.

M9 crash inquiry
John Yuill and Lamara Bell, who died after the car they were in left the M9 near Stirling in July 2015 (Police Scotland/PA)

A joint minute agreed by parties was read by junior counsel to the inquiry Elaine Smith.

The inquiry heard how Sergeant Brian Henry, who generally worked at Dalkeith police office, volunteered for overtime shifts in the Bilston Glen contact centre in Midlothian in June 2015.

He told then chief inspector Michaela Kerr that it had been a while since he had used the Storm case management system but he was “sure” with a “quick refresher” he would be competent.

It had been agreed he was to be trained on the call handling system and if Ms Kerr was happy with his performance, he could do the overtime shifts.

Mr Henry commenced overtime shifts on June 11 2015 and was working on the day John Wilson called Police Scotland on 101 to report the crash on the M9 eastbound junction nine slip road at the M80.

The inquiry heard Mr Wilson called 101 at 11.31am on Sunday, July 5 and reported the crash.

Mr Henry recorded the details in his police notebook, but this was not an accurate system of recording and were his own personal notes.

M9 crash inquiry
Gordon Yuill, father of John Yuill, at Falkirk Sheriff Court for the fatal accident inquiry (Jane Barlow/PA)

He undertook a web search to see whether the incident had already been reported and it had not.

Ms Smith said: “Brian Henry did not create a Storm entry or otherwise log a call.

“No police action was taken.”

The inquiry then heard how the families of Miss Bell and Mr Yuill made missing person reports after first checking with Police Scotland they were not in custody.

A missing persons inquiry was then launched, with helicopter searches of the area where Mr Yuill’s phone last connected with a mobile phone mast near Auchterarder in Perth and Kinross.

Later in the week, when Ms Bell and Mr Yuill’s families had learned of their fate, Mr Henry was asked about the crash which resulted in their deaths.

The inquiry heard he could not remember recording the incident in the computer system.

M9 crash scene
Police at the scene of the crash after the couple’s car was discovered (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mr Yuill and Miss Bell had been on a camping trip to Loch Earn with friends prior to their deaths.

The inquiry heard there were staffing pressures at Bilston Glen control centre around the time when the crash occurred.

Two of the smaller control centres in the east of Scotland, Stirling and Glenrothes, closed in early 2015.

Many of the call handlers who worked at Glenrothes and Stirling had opted for voluntary redundancy.

Additional operators were brought in to cover staffing shortfalls from Police Scotland staff – which included Mr Henry.

However, the inquiry heard, these additional resources were not given the same training as core call handling staff and that there were no standard operating procedures in place for escalating emergency calls that had come through 101.

It is expected the inquiry will last “a number of weeks”.

At a hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh in September 2021, Police Scotland was fined £100,000 after pleading guilty to health and safety failings which “materially contributed” to Ms Bell’s death.

The court heard Ms Bell pleaded for help after being found and would probably have survived had she been rescued sooner.

The inquiry heard on Monday how Ms Bell was found in “significant pain” when she was found on Wednesday July 8 2015.

She had to be given ketamine and a general anaesthetic as a result of her injuries. She later died at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital on Sunday, July 12.

Mr Yuill was pronounced dead at the scene.

M9 crash inquiry
Diane Bell (right), mother of Lamara Bell, arrives at Falkirk Sheriff Court (Jane Barlow/PA)

Former Police Scotland chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone apologised to the families of Mr Yuill and Ms Bell following the court case.

Similar to an inquest in England and Wales, an FAI is not a criminal inquiry and is used to establish facts rather than apportion blame.

Its purpose includes determining the cause of death, the circumstances in which the death occurred and to establish what reasonable precautions could have been taken to minimise the risk of future deaths in similar circumstances.

Procurator fiscal Andy Shanks, who leads on death investigations for COPFS, said: “Following a thorough and detailed investigation and criminal prosecution, this fatal accident inquiry will look at the full circumstances surrounding these tragic deaths and help avoid such an incident happening again.

“The families of Lamara Bell and John Yuill and their legal representatives will continue to be updated as the inquiry progresses.”

The inquiry, before Sheriff James Williamson, continues.