Glasgow bin lorry disaster driver beat 300 applicants to job, court hears

·3-min read
Harry Clarke had told his doctor he had fainted in a canteen when, in fact, he was behind the wheel of a bus (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)
Harry Clarke had told his doctor he had fainted in a canteen when, in fact, he was behind the wheel of a bus (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)

Harry Clarke the Glasgow bin lorry driver who collapsed behind the wheel in a disaster which killed six people, had beaten more than 300 applicants to the job, a court has heard.

Mr Clarke, 64, interviewed for the role with Glasgow City Council in September 2010 and was offered the position in December after completing a Bupa medical questionnaire, the Court of Session heard in a virtual hearing on Wednesday.

Glasgow City Council is suing First Bus the former employers of Mr Clarke, over the job reference the firm provided.

Mr Clarke collapsed while driving the 26-tonne vehicle in the city centre in December 2014, causing it to veer out of control and crash into pedestrians, killing six people and injuring more than a dozen others in a 19-second incident.

The scene in Glasgow’s George Square after the out-of-control bin lorry careered through streets packed with Christmas shoppers killing six people (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)
The scene in Glasgow’s George Square after the out-of-control bin lorry careered through streets packed with Christmas shoppers killing six people (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)

The hearing was told on Wednesday that Mr Clarke was among more than 300 people to apply for the role of “land and environmental driver”.

As part of the recruitment process, he had to answer a Bupa questionnaire about his health and was assessed by a council official as “suitable… from a health perspective” based on his answers.

He had declared one episode of sickness leading to seven days off in the previous two years, the court heard.

However, on Tuesday, presiding judge Lord Ericht heard Mr Clarke’s GP, Dr Gerard McKaig, confirmed he had been misled on Mr Clarke’s medical history prior to the crash.

Mr Clarke told his GP that he fainted in a warm canteen building in April 2010, but it later transpired he had lost consciousness behind the wheel of a stationary bus, the case heard.

In a witness statement, Dr McKaig said had he known about Mr Clarke fainting behind the wheel of a bus, he would have “warranted a much fuller investigation” into his health at the time.

The lorry careered up Queen Street in Glasgow hitting Christmas shoppers (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)
The lorry careered up Queen Street in Glasgow hitting Christmas shoppers (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)

Conditions of Mr Clarke’s employment outlined in his December 2010 offer letter included “satisfactory clearance of your pre medical questionnaire; satisfactory references, and satisfactory enhanced Disclosure Scotland check”.

Glasgow City Council operations manager Stewart Young said he has been unable to locate a reference for Mr Clarke despite an “exhaustive search of the customer and business service records”.

However, he added in his witness statement that a council spreadsheet states “a reference had been received for Mr Clarke direct from the recruiting manager and then approved by him on March 25 2011”.

Ian Buick, a former transport recruitment manager with the council who retired in 2012, sent an email on March 28 2011 saying he was “satisfied with the content of all the references” after the recruitment drive that included Mr Clarke.

He told the hearing: “I’m 100% clear that I checked all the references and that I had no concerns whatsoever. I took my job very very seriously… no way I would’ve sent that if I wasn’t 100% happy with all those references.”

Council worker Leeann Doherty also told proceedings she had “no doubt at all” that satisfactory references for Mr Clarke had been received.

However under questioning by Roddy Dunlop QC, for First Bus, she accepted she had not seen the references herself and was reliant on the HR department for that information.

She said: “I hadn’t seen them but I had been advised by HR the references were received and they were satisfactory.”

The hearing continues on Thursday morning.

A 2015 inquiry into the incident heard the tragedy took just 19 seconds to unfold.

Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents, Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton; Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow; and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, died in the crash.

A further 15 people were injured when the Glasgow City Council truck veered out of control.

It travelled along the pavement in Queen Street before crashing into the side of the Millennium Hotel in George Square.

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