M9 crash victim endured ‘almost incomprehensible’ suffering – inquiry

<span>Lamara Bell, right, lay dying in a crashed car for three days after the incident was reported to police. The crash killed her partner, John Yuill, left.<br></span><span>Photograph: Police Scotland/PA</span>
Lamara Bell, right, lay dying in a crashed car for three days after the incident was reported to police. The crash killed her partner, John Yuill, left.
Photograph: Police Scotland/PA

A young woman endured “almost incomprehensible” suffering as she lay seriously injured next to her deceased boyfriend in their crashed car for three days after the incident was first reported to the police, a fatal accident inquiry has found.

The “organisational failure” of Police Scotland “had fatal consequences for Lamara Bell”, according to Sheriff James Williamson. “Her suffering over a period of three days, terribly injured but conscious, is almost incomprehensible.”

Bell, 25, and her partner, John Yuill, 28, died after their car crashed off the M9 near Stirling in July 2015. Despite a call being made to police by a local farmer later on the morning of the crash reporting that the couple’s blue Renault Clio had left the road at Bannockburn, the information was not recorded properly.

Police responded only three days later, when another member of the public made a 999 call after spotting a blue object at the bottom of the motorway embankment.

The inquiry heard that, while Yuill suffered unsurvivable injuries in the crash, Bell, a mother of two, would probably have recovered had she received timely medical treatment, albeit with a long-term neurological deficit.

In his 200-page determination, Williamson said that at the time of the crash, Police Scotland had no system of reconciling information recorded by officers in notebooks with action taken.

He said that it was clear from previous investigations by the police watchdog that Sgt Brian Henry, now retired, who had volunteered to do overtime at the Bilston Glen police call handling centre, had recorded farmer John Wilson’s call in his police notebook, but failed to log it into the Storm case management system, and so no action was taken.

But he stressed: “It would be wrong to interpret that as blaming Brian Henry.”

Williamson described Henry as “inadequately trained and left largely unsupervised to operate a system that allowed for human error to go undetected”.

He concluded that there had been “more than one” individual failure and that “these failures took place over a lengthy period of time, during which the opportunity to resolve them was lost”.

Williamson said that since the incident in 2015, the police contact, command and control division had become “an entirely different organisation” and that the prospect of a similar incident being repeated was “remote”.

But he cautioned: “The response to any call is of course dependent on the resources available to Police Scotland,” which was a matter for the force, the Police Federation, politicians and the public.

Recognising the “hurt and frustration” caused to Bell and Yuill’s loved ones by the delay of many years to the inquiry, he commended both families “for the dignity they showed throughout the proceedings”.

The inquiry came after Bell’s family was awarded more than £1m in damages from Police Scotland in a civil settlement in December 2021. In September 2021, the force apologised after being fined £100,000 by the high court in Edinburgh for admitting that its failings had “materially contributed” to Bell’s death.

The force’s deputy chief constable Alan Speirs said: “Police Scotland failed Lamara and John in 2015 and I repeat the personal apology made previously to their loved ones. We did not keep them safe in their time of need, as was our duty, and for that I am truly sorry.

“We have fully participated with all inspections, investigations and inquiries established since July 2015 to identify what went wrong and to do everything we possibly can to stop a terrible incident such as this being repeated.

“Sheriff Williamson’s findings highlight the significant improvements which have been made to our call handling systems. How we respond to 999 and 101 calls now is incomparable to how we dealt with them in 2015.”